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This Remake of "Arthur"Lacks Art!

Everything that made the original “Arthur” (1981) such an appealing but politically incorrect romantic comedy is conspicuously missing from the lackluster remake co-starring Russell Brand and Helen Mirren.  Freshman director Jason Winer’s slick, glossy, $40-million rehash of “Arthur” (** out of ****) has made several hopeless changes that don’t improve the finished product. Moreover, Warner Brothers looks like it was banking heavily on “Arthur” to rake in millions because they have permitted the producers to shoehorn one of the studio’s hottest properties into the plot: Batman. “Arthur” opens and closes with our irresponsible hero joy-riding through the streets of New York City in a replica of the Batmobile. Winer and “Bruno” scenarist Peter Baynham have updated the story line and sharpened the focus. Unfortunately, this overt realism detracts from what essentially constituted a hilarious “Cinderella” fairy tale for adults. Mind you, the chief characters–particularly the eponymous zillionaire playboy–emerge as more often obnoxious than sympathetic.  The idea of casting Russell Brand in the role that Dudley Moore immortalized with his considerable wit and subtlety had some modicum of merit. After all, Moore and Brand are both English, and Brand is an exotic misfit. He takes himself no more seriously than Moore took himself. Sadly, the comic sensibilities that differentiate Brand from Moore doesn’t make Brand’s Arthur Bach either more interesting likeable. As his nanny, Helen Mirren succeeds far better than anybody in a biological role change. John Gielgud played Hobson in the original and served as Arthur’s valet.  Meanwhile, Nick Nolte is a perfect fit as the grumpy father of the woman, Jennifer Garner, who our protagonist is compelled to wed against his wishes.  Although he smartens up the storyline, Baynham has failed to replicate the sparkling dialogue of the original, and few of the lines are quotable. When everything is said and done, “Arthur” amounts to an inferior remake and none of Brand’s antics can compensate for these shortcomings. Arthur Bach (Russell Brand of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) doesn’t know the meaning of work. Indeed, Arthur has never earned a dime by the sweat of his own brow in his life. Nevertheless, he has more money to blow than most people ever dream about, and he indulges his every whim and desire with his millions. Such is Arthur’s notoriety that the police are already familiar with his outrageous shenanigans. Nothing that he does surprises them. When the authorities pull over his devoted but simple-minded chauffeur, Bitterman (Luis Guzman of “Mystery Men”), at the outset of the action, they know that only Arthur has enough money to not only buy his own Batmobile replica but also careen around the streets in it. Furthermore, it comes as no surprise to them that Arthur is sloshed. Arthur rarely does anything without an alcoholic drink in his hand. Mind you, the cops catch up with Arthur not because they are better drivers, but because Bitterman and Arthur cannot handle their Batmobile. The humor here is our tipsy hero crashes into the famous statue of a huge bull on Wall Street. When Arthur tries to extricate himself from the wreckage, he finds himself wedged up against the bull’s abundant scrotum. Eventually, Arthur’s long-suffering mother, Vivienne (Geraldine James of “Gandhi”), who manages the family business, tires of her son’s excesses and forces him to grow up. Namely, Vivience plans to deprive Arthur of his $950 million inheritance unless he bows to blackmail and marries a wealthy heiress, Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner of “Catch and Release”), who she holds in high regard for her business acumen. Naturally, Arthur doesn’t like his mother’s ultimatum. Initially, he tries his hand at working. Predictably, Arthur’s attempts at holding done a job at Dylan’s, Gotham’s most illustrious candy store end in disaster. Arthur’s life-long nanny and confidante, Hobson (Helen Mirren of “Red”), believes that a trip to the altar might straighten him up. Hobson has spent most of her life picking up after Arthur and forcing his hookers and one-night stands to cough up his expensive toys and valuables than they tried to steal. Along the way, rebellious Arthur discovers penniless Naomi Quinn (Greta Gerwig of “No Strings Attached”), the woman that he has spent his entire life looking for. Naomi works as a Manhattan tour guide without a license. Indeed, like Arthur, the authorities know about her and have repeatedly warned her about her illegitimate job. In the original “Arthur,” the girl of his dreams, Liza Minnelli’s hard-working waitress Linda Marolla, was a shoplifter who liked to steal ties for her unemployed father. Naomi and Arthur hit it off splendidly because our hero knows how to spend big. Arthur makes a major mistake when forgets to inform Naomi about his predicament. When she learns that Arthur is about to marry Susan, Naomi washes her hands of him. It doesn’t help matters that Arthur has pulled strings to get a publisher for her children’s book. As remakes go, “Arthur” seems rather pointless, no matter how well Winer and Baynham have updated the protagonist’s antics. Sadly, those antics are more tasteless than amusing. Worse, in an effort to differentiate themselves from the original, they have poor Arthur sober up according to the Twelve-Step Alcoholics Anonymous program. Brand possesses none of the charm and wit that made the original Dudley Moore character so infectiously funny. Instead, Brand tries to convert the title character into the rock’n roll miscreant that he portrayed not only in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” but also “Get Him to the Greek.” “Arthur” fails to generate any chemistry between its leads. Brand and Mirren don’t bond, and she doesn’t get to deliver the acid-tipped barbs that John Gielgud administered with such relish  in the original.

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