Friends don't let friends act drunk
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, April 8, 2011
Was the lovable lush ever funny? I mean, honestly?
Maybe it was a hoot back in the 1970s, the heyday of comedian Foster Brooks, who made a career out of pretending to be shellacked on “The Dean Martin Variety Show.” By 1981, when the original “Arthur” came out, the slurred-speech shtick of Dudley Moore — the titular playboy alcoholic who cackled wildly at his own jokes and then fell down — was already getting old.
In 2011, the sight of Russell Brand doing essentially the same thing, in an utterly redundant remake directed by sitcom veteran Jason Winer (“Modern Family”), is a little bit pitiful. At least in the first movie, John Gielgud’s Hobson, the manservant of the perpetually inebriated heir Arthur Bach, was given a steady arsenal of dry and acerbic laugh lines to keep the film — and its audience — from falling asleep.
In the new, gender-flipping version, Hobson is played by Helen Mirren, a brilliant actress for whom writer Peter Baynham hasn’t managed to find a single humorous thing to say. This “Arthur” is an exercise in time-travel tedium, a trip to the Land That Funny Forgot.
For those who don’t remember the original story — or who were born after it came out — the premise is straightforward. Arthur (Brand) is the man-child heir of a family fortune who has been burning up his trust fund with hookers and booze. After he embarrasses his shrewish, strait-laced mother (Geraldine James) one time too many by crashing one of his collection of vintage movie cars (in this case, the Batmobile, one of the film’s few gags that works, sort of), Mommy Dearest lays down an ultimatum: Marry the gold-digging but pedigreed Susan (Jennifer Garner, in claws-out, mane-shaking glory) or be cut off from the money tree forever.
Arthur agrees, reluctantly. That is, until he meets Naomi (Greta Gerwig), a sweet and penniless free spirit (who is also, apparently, unable to detect the stink of alcohol on Arthur’s breath in the many close-up scenes in which their faces are an inch apart).
Perhaps she’s merely won over by his English charm, though, other than the accent, there is no practical evidence of it on screen. Once again, Brand has chosen a role for which his manic, impish and verbally dextrous comedy skills are not just ill suited, but smothered. He’s like a major-leaguer trying to limp around the bases in a Little League uniform.
It’s painful, perplexing and kind of sad.
Arthur’s mother pretty much sums it up when she says to him, early in the film, “How can you squander your considerable intelligence on idiocy like this?”
Contains sexual situations, some obscenity, comedic alcohol abuse and far more jokes and/or sight gags related to the main character's "winkie" than are strictly necessary, or funny.