Arthur Early Reviews: “Dispiritingly Witless,” “Crude instead of Whimsical”

Arthur Early Reviews: "Dispiritingly Witless," "Crude instead of Whimsical"
Thompson on Hollywood

In this remake of the 1981 classic, Arthur, Russell Brand takes on Dudley Moore’s comic drunk, joined by Helen Mirren (in John Gielgud’s butler role) and rival girlfriends Greta Gerwig and Jennifer Garner. Directed by Jason Winer (TV’s Modern Family) from Peter Baynham’s revamp of Steve Gordon’s original script, this ensemble relationship comedy is failing to find critical validation. Early reviews, photos and the trailer are below.

Brand and a strong supporting cast work hard to breathe life into this glossily inert studio concoction. (The best laughs are in the trailer: when they arrive in the movie, we don’t laugh.) This badly-timed, old-fashioned romantic comedy about a wealthy spendthrift Peter Pan (we’re in a recession) isn’t real or funny, nor does it relate to us now. Gifted actresses Gerwig and Mirren survive on charm and skill, but the other women in Arthur’s life, his distant executive mom (Geraldine James) and graspingly ambitious fiance (Jennifer Garner), play thankless caricatures of what men don’t like. In trying to appeal to everyone, Arthur winds up a ‘tweener with no discernable target audience: neither families nor hipsters, young men or women, or anyone old enough to have enjoyed the original.

Marshall Fine:

Thompson on Hollywood

“What is this movie’s reason for being? None are obvious…If anything, this movie should put a nail in the coffin of Russell Brand’s career as a movie comic because, well, the guy’s just not that funny…This reworking of the original Arthur tries to inoculate itself against charges of insensitivity right off the bat, despite its depiction of a drunk billionaire who burns through money frivolously…it feels like a sop, rather than a sincere concern about being accused of making a movie that portrays drunkenness as a giddy, feel-good state of being (which the original film did – and really, when was the last time you saw a movie about a lovable alcoholic?)…[Helen Mirren] has the film’s few funny lines – and boy does she have to work to wring the humor out of the bland writing of Peter Baynham…It’s always disheartening when Hollywood takes a great comedy and remakes it poorly. It’s even worse when it takes a mediocre movie and remakes it into something dispiritingly witless like Arthur.”

Kirk Honeycutt, THR:

Thompson on Hollywood

“It’s still an open question whether in this day of increased concerns about alcoholism and health you can do a remake of 1981’s Arthur, a comedy about a loveable drunk, because the new Arthur, with Russell Brand playing the Dudley Moore role, is a mere burlesque riffing off the old Arthur rather than an actual remake that has reconceived or rethought the original film.
The story hasn’t changed much, nor have the characters. But the comedy is now crude instead of whimsical and its characters overblown caricatures instead of screwball personalities. A movie has been reduced to a sketch…Perhaps encouraged by his props and toys, Brand goes full bore in every scene, almost as if the movie isn’t so much about a drunk as an eccentric billionaire, who would be loopy if he drank only lemonade.”

Drew McWeeny, HitFix:

“Is a sporadically charming riff on such a familiar property enough to give Russell Brand and Greta Gerwig the bumps that it feels like the industry wants for them?  They’ve both been tapped, but they haven’t really had an organic moment where something they were in went from hit to phenomenon.  And it feels like Hollywood wants to give them that moment.  But this sort of innocuous remake, amiable and ultimately sort of dull, probably isn’t how it’s going to happen.  Dudley Moore had a real moment with the original, and this is just a karaoke version.”

Armond White, NYPress:

“Worse than film school formula, Arthur’s transparently the product of some powerful Hollywood agents responsible for foisting Brand on American culture. Arthur’s inamorata is another agent-foisted ingenue, Greta Gerwig, whose smiley-face slow readings intrude mumblecore lassitude on commercial efficiency. She matches Brand in childlike simple-mindedness. No wonder Arthur’s nanny (check-cashing Helen Mirren) warns, ‘As the coffee-colored gentleman who runs this country said: It’s time to put childish things behind us.'”

Emanuel Levy:

“This new version does not find any way to take advantage of the ongoing recession to make the story timelier and winds up as a result with an out-of-touch vibe. At a time when the world of the wealthy is more than ever associated with evil incarnate, what can make us care about the mental and romantic health of the ultimate Richie Rich—who could care less about any of us?…It is clear right away that Brand is not nailing the part: his Arthur often has a high-pitched, silly voice that takes much getting used to. His entire performance, even the way he moves, is overly mannered…Add to that a sprinkling of racist jokes and a parody of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and we have a pretty unpleasant film all around.”

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