April 8, 2011

Arthur (04/08/2011)

Lettergrade: C

This new Arthur remake runs a number of uninspiring plays from the romantic comedy rulebook. The material is elevated, however, by the natural likeability of the two leads - British sleaze-comic Russell Brand and Greenburg's lovely Greta Gerwig - with a strong assist from Helen Mirren as Arthur's crusty nanny. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, but I will say that given my skeptical opinion both for Brand and the trailers, the movie surprised me by being "not bad."

Brand's Arthur is a multibillionaire playboy whose mother manages a family trust that does something or other. Tired of his drunken headline grabbing, stock-holder spooking, spoiled-brat antics, mother decrees that Arthur must marry the reptilian Susan (Jennifer Garner), a high-up in the family business, so that someone with the family name might take over the fund someday, as is tradition. Arthur, of course, is opposed to the idea, but recognizes that he cannot live without the money. Matters are further complicated when he meet-cutes Gerwig, who is giving an unofficial tour of Grand Central Station, and helps her out of a jam in such a way that just happens to kindle instant romance.

The movie makes an honest attempt at getting the character stuff between comedic bits to really work... Sometimes it does, and sometimes it feels horribly rushed and simply not believable. As much as I liked Gerwig in the movie, her character felt alarmingly underwritten to me. Nowhere is this more apparent than during her early scenes, where she's all smiles and seemingly ready to unquestioningly jump into a relationship with a man who, in spite of his wealth, would raise serious warning flags for most other people. Later, there's a dramatic scene where he must tell her that he's already engaged to Garner... information that, naive as she is, would be almost impossible for her to miss by even casually browsing the occasional newspaper.

Brand's screen persona is a mishmash of other fictional characters... as if Jack Sparrow and Austin Powers had produced a child and assigned Pee Wee Herman to raise him. I found him entertaining as a side-character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but have very deliberately avoided anything else he's been involved with, in part because he gave his autobiography the unforgivable title "My Booky Wook" and also because I equally despise his now-wife Katy Perry. Really, though, I must admit that he's not bad in the movie, and should he see fit to take on more interesting, challenging roles in the future, I would not be opposed to giving them a shot.

When I first saw the ad for this movie, not knowing what it was, I remember thinking that Brand was doing a bizarre Dudley Moore impression. Toward the end of the trailer, when the title card revealed that it was Arthur, a remake of the 1981 comedy that made Moore a household name, it suddenly made sense. I honestly never saw the original when I was a kid, but have extremely fuzzy memories of catching bits of Arthur 2: On The Rocks on HBO at various points during the 80s. As such, I have no real perspective on this film versus its predecessor, but I see from IMDB.com that many of the character names are the same, and I hear that several of the big plot points are as well.

I've noticed over the last few weeks that the tag line on the poster ("Meet The World's Only Lovable Billionaire") is quite prominent, so much so that I have to believe it was a huge point of concern for the marketing folks at Warner Bros. Indeed, with the ├╝ber-wealthy so vilified after the financial meltdown of 2008, I can't help but think that the film's caviler attitude toward Arthur's obscenely extravagant and wasteful lifestyle might flat out piss off a large percentage of the movie-going public, who have had it worse than ever lately. Arthur lives in a fantasy world where anything is possible after a phone-call or two. Other than the vague threat of not having that money to play with anymore and some thin P.S.A.s from Gerwig about how there's a lot of public property that can be enjoyed for free, he's a man who has not (and does not) have to confront economic realities on any level whatsoever. It's tough territory for any movie to try to mine laughs from... particularly when it's one that happened to open on a weekend where the Federal Government nearly shut down over budget matters like whether or not to fund heating assistance for low income families.

I'm not sure that it's the right time for a light-hearted romp about the foibles of the repugnantly wealthy, but if you think you can sit in the theater and not seethe about how badly you're getting f**ked by the upper 1%, it might make for an enjoyable time-filler.

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