Russell Brand Charms in Arthur Remake

Russell Brand Stars in Arthur

The 1981 comedy Arthur, starring the late Dudley Moore and the even later Sir John Gielgud, is a movie that most people recall so fondly that it’s become a bit of a celluloid sacred cow. In this now 30 year-old film, Moore played the titular character; a lovable, billionaire playboy / drunk, against Gielgud’s role as Arthur’s staid butler, Hobson; an Oscar-winning performance that was memorable for Gielgud’s many droll one-liners that continually upstaged every scene he and Moore shared. The vibrant, on-screen chemistry created by these two actors has understandably inspired a warm-fuzzy feeling in the memories of Arthur fans, and there’s nothing wrong with that. What’s interesting is the pre-emptive “Don’t Fuck With Arthur” backlash that seems to be swirling about the Internet in anticipation of an Arthur remake, starring comedic actor Russell Brand and screen legend Helen Mirren (directed by Jason Winer, due in theaters tomorrow). As if casting Brand – an actor famous for his hilarious portrayal of an out of control, licentious, alcoholic rock star – as Arthur and Helen Mirren Dame Helen Mirren, I might add – as a female version of Hobson is anything but inspired casting. Having attended a press screening of Arthur last night, please let me assuage your fears that it might take a cinematic dump on your kind regard for its predecessor. While undeniably a vehicle driven by Russell Brand’s showcase performance (because, let’s get real; the guy is a superstar in training), Arthur is a charming update on its source material that’s laugh out loud hilarious pretty much from beginning to end.

For those unfamiliar with the story, the plot of Arthur remains faithful to the original: Arthur is a perpetual Man-child, sworn to fun and debauchery and able to bankroll his endless adolescence thanks to a seemingly limitless income from the family business, Bach Worldwide. When Arthur’s outrageous shenanigans (crashing his ‘Bat Mobile’ hot rod into the Wall Street Bull) land him in jail, threatening to besmirch the company’s reputation among its investors, his mother, who runs the business with an iron fist, decides it’s time to tame him down. Through marriage to one of her ambitious young employees, Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner), she aims to rein-in Arthur’s irresponsible behavior and keep the family name out of the tabloid headlines. The catch, of course, is that on the cusp of his engagement to Susan, Arthur meets “the woman of his dreams” in a NYC tour guide named Naomi (Greta Gerwig in a role made for her). If you’ve ever seen a Hollywood movie, you can figure out the rest of the plot for yourself.

The acting in Arthur is one of its high points, with lots of memorable supporting characters that help to flesh out the rather simple plot. Helen Mirren is fantastic as Arthur’s “Nanny” Hobson. Her and Arthur’s interactions obviously include a lot of improvisation (one of Brand’s great talents honed in his stand up comedy act) and their chemistry, as in the original, is right on. In the original Arthur, Susan (played by Jill Eikenberry) is a very sweet and beautiful socialite whom Arthur simply does not love. In the new version, Susan is a calculating and manipulative career woman whose ambition to control Arthur’s family business is all–consuming. She’s determined that Arthur marry her, whether he likes it or not – and her bullying, borderline-psycho father (Nick Nolte) is equally determined that his daughter get what she wants. Here, both Garner and Nolte create worthwhile, Love-to-hate characters out of fairly one-note roles. But it’s most rewarding to see an appealing actress like Greta Gerwig shine as Naomi, as she plays so well off of Brand’s improvisational, physical performance. After having suffered through the thoroughly unpleasent 2010 film Greenberg, (which is, seriously, one of the most dreadfully awful indie films ever made) in which she played the only likeable character, I hope she will become known for many other good roles. The Worley Gig Gives Arthur Four out of Five Stars.

Arthur Opens Nationwide on Friday, April 9th

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