The remake of “Arthur” goes wrong some time before the tipsy millionaire shows up in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It’s merely the latest amble into tone-deafness for a movie that, despite a lot of funny lines and a committed performance by the big screen’s newest professional drunk, Russell Brand, fails.
The original Arthur (Dudley Moore) wouldn’t have dreamed of twelve step meetings. The makers of that first film, which was a huge hit and won John Gielgud an Oscar, were just as politically incorrect in their day. But they knew, even while making a giggling drunken wastrel their hero in the early days of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, of celebrating a wealthy spendthrift in the Reagan Recession, how much of a buzz-kill the very idea of of AA interrupting Arthur’s bender would be.
The new “Arthur” has a winning cast — Brand, Helen Mirren in the John Gielgud role, Jennifer Garner as the rich girl Arthur is ordered to marry and the charming Greta Gerwig in the poor little Liza Minnelli role. It’s got some zingers recycled from the first movie and more than a few new one-liners that land.
“Did you kill Minnie Mouse, or did she surrender that dress willingly?” Hobson (Mirren) sneers at Arthur’s new infatuation (Gerwig).
Director Jason Winer’s movie is just…off.
Brand is Arthur Bach, a rich Brit brat whose wicked wicked ways have made him a fixture in the New York tabloids. We meet him as he and his chauffeur (Luis Guzman) run the Batmobile — yes, he’s bought it — under the Wall Street bull statue. Arthur has more cars than Jay Leno, more toys that Toys R Us and has grown up so pampered and spoiled that he knows nothing of the real world. But one arrest too many — he extravagantly and generously bails everybody at the jail — forces a meeting with his frosty, distant Mum (Geraldine James).
“I remember from when I used to live in your womb!”
When Mother stops going on about “that charming coffee-colored gentleman who runs the country,” she decrees that Arthur must marry Susan, her favorite ruthless go-getter executive. She’s played with a venal verve by Jennifer Garner, and the fact you kind of root for her throws the whole story out of balance.
Then there’s the hand-to-mouth tour guide Arthur meets on his way home from the auction where he bought the suit Lincoln wore to his second inaugural, a suit he promptly dons. He rescues Naomi (Gerwig) from arrest (she has no license) with a bit of fanciful invention. The cops want to see his ID. Arthur produces a penny.
There isn’t any chemistry between Brand and Gerwig, which may explain why she’s not in the commercials or the poster. She’s winsome and fetching, but the spark isn’t there.
Meanwhile, the wedding plans continue apace, and we see just how far gone Nick Nolte’s voice is — he’s the two-fisted, menacing builder who is the father of the bride. Arthur accidentally shoots him with his own nail gun and jokes about how nails in the hands “made a hero out of Jesus.”
Oh no he didn’t.
The first 45 minutes of this have plenty of laughs as we navigate “the vast moat of champagne called last night” and enjoy Mirren’s way with a one-liner. Brand’s offhand delivery of a whispered “Help me” to the diners in a restaurant where Arthur is forced to propose and Garner’s drunken seduction scene — the one involving Arthur’s magnetic levitation bed that you see in the commercials — are a stitch.
But I never bought Mirren’s nanny snobbery (Gielgud sold it, and how), Arthur’s foray into the world of working people (a job at Dylan’s, New York’s most famous candy store) and I don’t want to know why Arthur drinks. Not for a comedy.
Overlong, overcast and a lot more politically correct than it lets on, this “Arthur” is on the rocks long before Last Call.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for alcohol use throughout, sexual content, language and some drug references.
Cast:. Russell Brand, Jennifer Garner, Helen Mirren, Nick Nolte, Greta Gerwig, Luis Guzman
Credits: Directed by Jason Winer. A Warner Bros. release. Running time: 1:50.