Andy Bockelman: ‘Arthur’ remake is more elaborate, but not quite as rich
2.5 out of 4 stars
Starring: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner and Greta Gerwig.
From Prince William to Paris Hilton, the offspring of the rich and powerful have never been more popular nor less useful in our society than today.
But, for all the tabloid opportunities provided by today’s trust fund babies, the titular character of “Arthur” beats them all hands down.
Don’t believe it? Well, when was the last time one of Warren Buffett’s kids crashed the Batmobile into the Charging Bull statue on Wall Street?
Arthur Bach (Russell Brand) may be in his 30s, but he’s never had any interest in living the life of a functional adult. Fortunately, he’s never had any need to grow up, sponging off the millions that make up his family fortune while his mother, Vivienne (Geraldine James), runs his late father’s corporation.
But, the free ride is about to come to an end, as Vivienne imposes an ultimatum: either the man-child can marry Susan (Jennifer Garner), the successful, ambitious daughter of business bigwig Burt Johnson (Nick Nolte), or his inheritance will be pulled.
Already reluctant to do anything his mother demands, Arthur is further distressed by the idea of matrimony involving someone he can’t stand, even if his lifelong nanny (Helen Mirren) advises him to suck it up and go through with the deal.
But, when he meets a tour guide named Naomi (Greta Gerwig), he is instantly smitten.
And not just because being with her could get him out his bind.
Brand’s notoriety as a hard-drinking, hard-living maniac makes him the only possible choice to play the part of the boozy playboy first made popular by Dudley Moore 30 years ago. While Brand seems to draw more inspiration from Tom Hanks’ role in “Big” or Adam Sandler’s “Billy Madison,” he still has that certain something that comes with playing a privileged jackass as lovable.
Mirren’s stony-faced sensibilities serve her well as Arthur’s permanent babysitter and best friend Hobson, the kind of latently hostile governess who would take Mary Poppins’ spoonful of sugar and shove it down her throat or kick Maria Von Trapp off an alpine mountaintop.
Garner may not be the first choice to play scheming corporate up-and-comer Susan — notably altered from her doormat function in the 1981 original — but she has her moments as the kind of woman who sees marriage as a merger and “true love” as a four-letter word. At least she’s not as scary as Nolte as her self-made construction mogul father, who doesn’t let things like feelings get in his way, even if it means getting shot by a nail gun.
Gerwig is the strongest and warmest presence as working class Naomi, right on track with Liza Minnelli sans the red cowboy hat, trying to instill the value into Arthur that there are some things money can’t buy.
Of course, when you’re courting a guy who rents out Grand Central Terminal for your first date, keeps a screening room with a non-stop loop of “Looney Tunes” and sleeps atop a specially constructed bed of giant magnets, maybe you should get while the getting’s good.
While Moore’s depiction of Arthur involved stunts like picking up a prostitute to dine with at an elegant bistro, Brand is forced to up the ante, being driven around by his chauffeur (Luis Guzmán) in cars like the “Back to the Future” DeLorean, the General Lee and the Mystery Machine; buying Abraham Lincoln’s suit and hat at auction; and even going so far as to empty an ATM to hand out free money to all takers.
Somebody doesn’t know the definition of “recession.” No, seriously — he doesn’t. Also a mystery to him: vocabulary words like “sobriety,” “moderation” and “monogamy.”
Aside from having its protagonist try to burn through as much cash as possible, this remake changes a few things, such as Arthur being cowed mostly by females as opposed to a demanding father and a sardonic male version of Hobson in the original.
This modification is one of the new movie’s strengths with Brand bringing something to each of his relationships, be it the mother/naughty child vibe he shares with Mirren, the mutual loathing with Garner or the absolute adoration with Gerwig.
But, even with a cast that really gets you to care about their characters, the express need for a redo never really comes across. This is the central problem with most remakes that try to capitalize on an already beloved movie, and the whole tone of the unnecessary update hinders what is otherwise a relatively fun watch.
Even with more raucous, scatterbrained content than its predecessor, the new “Arthur” has heart behind it. Fans of the original won’t be swayed, but for people who prefer the music of Fitz & The Tantrums to Christopher Cross, maybe the latest version of “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” will automatically lead you to say “Out with the old and in with the new.”