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"ARTHUR" (2011)
(2011) (Russell Brand, Helen Mirren) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A spoiled man-child must choose between a poor and unlicensed tour guide and a rich but ruthless businesswoman, all with his access to his family's vast fortune at stake if he chooses the former over an arranged marriage with the latter.
Arthur Bach (RUSSELL BRAND) has never worked a day in his life, but he has more than enough money to entertain his whims and desires, such as dressing up as Batman and Robin with his personal driver, Bitterman (LUIS GUZMAN). His antics, many of which involve some sort of drunken behavior, are a constant embarrassment for his mother, Vivienne (GERALDINE JAMES), who runs the company business.

As a result, she decrees that he must marry ruthless businesswoman Susan Johnson (JENNIFER GARNER) -- daughter of blue collar construction magnate Burt Johnson (NICK NOLTE) -- or lose access to the family's nearly billion dollar fortune. Arthur hates the idea, but his lifelong nanny, Hobson (HELEN MIRREN), thinks it might make him grow up.

Things get complicated when he runs into Naomi Quinn (GRETA GERWIG), an unlicensed Manhattan tour guide who lives in Brooklyn with her father and dreams of writing children's books. He's charmed by her attitude and behavior and quickly falls for her, but doesn't inform her that he's already engaged to Susan. From that point on, he must decide which woman and thus future lifestyle to choose.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
It's interesting how quickly social mores can change and how that ends up affecting various aspects of life, including one's perception of entertainment offerings. Take, for instance, drinking. While many people obviously still partake in consuming alcohol, there was a time when it was considered funny to be intoxicated in public and thus act that way (and sometimes actually be in that state) on TV or in the movies.

Much of Dean Martin, Foster Brooks and W.C. Fields' careers revolved around that reputation, while Dudley Moore had a surprise comedy hit in 1981 playing the title boozer in "Arthur." He earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a spoiled man-child and sole heir to an immense fortune with the caveat being he had to marry a woman he didn't love to maintain access to the family money.

As oft occurs, he fell for someone else (Liza Minnelli playing a working class waitress) and then faced the dilemma -- complicated by his often drunken state -- of choosing between the two women and thus two vastly different lifestyles. The film was a box office hit, earned 4 total Oscar nominations (and a win for Christopher Cross' "Best That You Can Do" song and John Gielgud snagging the Best Supporting Actor statuette playing Arthur's prim and proper valet) and further proved that the public still enjoyed watching funny drunkards.

By the time the sequel arrived six years later, however, public acceptance of that sort of public display and related humor had changed dramatically. As a result, coupled with the replacement of writer/director Steve Gordon (who died in 1982) and thus substandard work all around, it was a commercial and artistic disaster. Since then, most drunken public escapades have ended up in celebrity publications and TV shows (and now even the national media) rather than in works of fiction, usually with some level of rehab being reported along with that.

While his stint with just that occurred before his recent skyrocket to success in the States and marriage to singer Katy Perry, Russell Brand now takes over the character Moore created in the unnecessary but occasionally entertaining remake of the first film, also simply titled "Arthur." As directed by Jason Winer from a script by Peter Baynham, the film pretty much follows the plotline of the original.

In it, Brand plays a similar man-child character, usually with drink in hand and/or appearing in a drunken state, and often throwing his money around without any second thoughts. Like before, he has a seemingly prudish and magisterial caregiver -- Helen Mirren taking on the unenviable task of filling Gielgud's shoes (with just a brief but funny vocal reference to her predecessor) -- as well as the same romantic/money quandary.

According to his mother (Geraldine James), if he doesn't marry a ruthless businesswoman (Jennifer Garner) and instead opts for unlicensed tour guide/aspiring children's book author (Greta Gerwig), he'll lose his vast fortune. While there have been some updates -- including use of various vehicles from other Warner Bros. films including the Batmobile -- it's pretty much the same old, same old.

All of which means if you saw the original, there will be few surprises in how things play out. There are some laugh aloud moments of dialogue here and there, courtesy of Baynham as well as the delivery thereof by Brand and Mirren, but no real reason to justify the remake (aside from the seemingly easy -- or at least easier -- money from raiding cinemadom's vaults rather than creating something new).

Aside from it possibly be in the minds of those in the know, even tying Brand's real life abuse issues in the past to the role here doesn't really do much for our view of the character or even the overall experience. The actor is fine in the role, but it's clearly no stretch as he's been playing these sorts of characters for the past few years, so no stretch of the imagination is needed to see him in the part.

Mirren is good, of course, but Garner is only so-so (mainly due to the script) but Gerwig's "naturalistic" and charming-meets-quirky work (so good in "Greenberg") feels off here to the point that one wonders if she's purposefully trying to imitate Minnelli's unbelievable performance in the original films. All of which means she doesn't feel natural, even taking into account that Brand and Luiz Guzman (as his driver/reluctant but hired playmate) aren't exactly playing anything realistic.

Overall, the flick is amusing and funny enough to avoid being the feared complete fiasco many imagined. But with the original still in mind and public drunkenness not being as socially acceptable as it was 30 years ago (yes, 30!), this remake is a sober reminder that you can't always bottle success twice. This latest version of "Arthur" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed April 4, 2011 / Posted April 8, 2011

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