Warner Bros. // 2011 // 110 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 27th, 2011
No work. All play.
Susan: "You're running from yourself, Arthur."
Arthur: "I wish I was, because I'd let me get away."
Arthur (Russell Brand, Get Him to the Greek) is a wealthy playboy and heir to his family's incredibly successful business. He spends his days partying and finding new ways to spend his seemingly endless wealth. The moments in which he is sober are few and far between, leaving his loyal nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren, The Queen) and driver Bitterman (Luis Guzman, Carlito's Way) to pick up the pieces in the wake of his chaotic adventures.
At long last, Arthur's mother (Geraldine James, Sherlock Holmes) has decided that it's just about time for her son to grow up. She informs Arthur that he has an important choice to make: marry the well-to-do Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner, Alias) for the sake of creating some illusion of public dignity, or give up his entire fortune. Arthur begrudgingly agrees to marry Susan, but suddenly finds himself falling in love with a humble New York tour guide named Naomi (Greta Gerwig, Greenberg). Soon, our drunken protagonist will be forced to choose between true love and his lavish lifestyle.
When the remake of Arthur was released, some critics acted as if an enormous cinematic crime had been committed. How dare anyone attempt to remake such a beloved comedy classic? The first Arthur is certainly a beloved comedy, but if we're being honest, it's hardly one of the greats. It's a breezy, lightweight charmer containing containing one of Dudley Moore's best performances, a delightful turn from John Gielgud, and a smattering of memorable lines. I've go no problem with the idea of an Arthur remake, nor do I have any problem with the role being handed to Russell Brand. Even so, this new version doesn't quite manage to stick the landing.
The most prominent difference between the original Arthur and the 2011 version (aside from Hobson's gender switch) is that the new version is considerably sillier in tone. The first hour or so of the film is loaded with agreeably wacky hijinks, as the main character has been subtly tweaked to serve as a vehicle for Brand's polarizing style of humor (I find him moderately amusing, though your mileage may vary). The film employs very broad strokes and yet still offers shades of subtlety in its character development: that Arthur would purchase a Batmobile to ride around town in doesn't tell us too much, but that he would purchase the Batmobile from Batman Forever speaks volumes: he's not just a big spender, he's an exquisitely bad big spender.
The basic problem with the 2011 Arthur is that it's telling the exact same story as the original version, and the wild silliness of the first half doesn't provide enough of a foundation to carry the emotional weight of the second half. I won't spoil what happens for those who haven't seen either version, but suffice it to say that both versions of Arthur contain some tragic developments that send both films spiraling into melancholy territory. The first time around, it was moving thanks to the fact that we had invested a great deal in the characters. This time, it seems like a disappointing transition into conventional lesson-learning territory. The film only works when it doesn't try to achieve anything of substance.
Still, the movie is entertaining enough long enough to make it a modestly engaging one-time watch. That's largely because the cast fares well even when the screenplay starts to falter. Brand has a great deal of fun in the lead role, and handles his drunken stream-of-consciousness rants with aplomb (though much like Moore, he seems far wittier than real drunks ever really are). Mirren makes an agreeable substitute for Gielgud, and Jennifer Garner enlivens the one-dimensional role of Susan with an enthusiastic comic performance. Garner's portrait of self-absorption makes a nice companion piece to her work in Ricky Gervais' overlooked The Invention of Lying. Mumblecore queen Greta Gerwig infuses her role with low-key charm, while Luis Guzman and Nick Nolte generate a few laughs in smaller roles.
A note on Arthur's drunkeness, a factor that was significantly downplayed in the trailers: it's still there. Arthur is every bit the lush he was the first time around, but the politically correct times we live in are certainly apparent in this version. As a consequence for his drinking, Arthur is forced to attend a couple of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings during the film's second half. This is a mistake, as it robs the character of his unacknowledged tragedy.
Arthur staggers onto Blu-ray sporting a decent 1080p/1.85:1 transfer. The detail doesn't sparkle quite as much as one would hope, as the image looks a bit overcooked at times. The film was directed by Modern Family helmer Jason Winer, and the it generally has the look and feel of a bright, middle-sized network television show (even the Grand Central Station sequence isn't too cinematic). Flesh tones are warm and natural throughout, and blacks are acceptably deep (there is a bit of crush at times). Audio is sturdy, with clean dialogue and the usual rom-com assortment of playful score selections and breezy pop tunes (including a lackluster cover of "Best That You Can Do"). Extras are limited to "Arthur Unsupervised" (basically an 11-minute gag reel), an official gag reel (running less than two minutes), some deleted scenes, and a trailer. You also get a DVD copy and digital copy.
The 2011 Arthur is agreeable viewing, but less satisfying than its predecessor. It's worth a look if you generally dig Brand's sense of humor and don't require anything more than a medium-sized portion of chuckles.
Almost guilty, but not quite.
Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy