If you must see "Arthur," choose a theater that serves alcohol. You'll be needing it.
Like a 3-D adventure, this fiasco is best viewed through beer goggles.
A team of moviemakers takes millions of dollars, a classic comedy and a sheet of tracing paper, and produces a travesty. They had the blueprint for a great movie in the 1981 Dudley Moore-John Gielgud “Arthur.” Sublime performances. Wicked jokes. The soulful relationship between the rich, spoiled drunk and his sarcastic guardian. Their job was just to faithfully reproduce it. And they couldn’t. My head hurts.
“Arthur” is not one of those where-did-it-all-go-wrong calamities. Its basic design flaw is clear: Russell Brand doesn’t have much talent for vulnerability. As Arthur Bach, perpetually sozzled heir of a dragon lady businesswoman, he is presented as a poor little rich boy using booze as a shield against a life of alienation. This is a bit like casting Jason Statham as a sensitive Nobel Prize winner.
Brand, a comic in the Ricky Gervais-Steve Coogan line of inflated self-regard, is best when he’s obnoxious. In “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Get Him to the Greek,” he was a volatile compound of libido, entitlement and IQ. He was appalling and very funny. In “Arthur,” he’s required to be a fabulously wealthy underdog. Brand does not work as the soft, warm-and-human center of this movie.
Arthur, living in a Manhattan penthouse playpen, makes the frivolous life of an upper-class twit look like a drag. When his fire-breathing mother tries to force him into a financially advantageous marriage with a construction heiress, Arthur rebels by falling for a ditsy tour guide. Will he choose his billion-dollar inheritance or true love?
Brand plays drunkenness as a kind of elevated nonchalance, but never achieves the happy-go-lucky verve of Moore or Johnny Depp’s Capt. Jack Sparrow. As his steely socialite fiancee, Jennifer Garner is shrewish. Indie movie pussycat Greta Gerwig plays the tender, salt-of-the-earth Queens girl who could be Arthur’s salvation. She’s not bad, considering that the role is so gauzy a projection of masculine fantasies that the character is utterly lacking in energy and depth. Helen Mirren, slumming in the role of Arthur’s stern but doting nanny, is more vividly alive than the rest of the cast even when the script requires her to wear a Darth Vader helmet and command, “Wash your winkie.”
Cast: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner, Greta Gerwig
Director: Jason Winer
Running time: 1:50
Rated: PG-13; alcohol use, sexual content, language