Review by Bob Ignizio
I know I saw the original 1981 ARTHUR starring Dudley Moore in the title role around the time it was originally released. I'm also pretty sure I thought it was funny at the time, but I was eleven, so who can say for sure. Such nostalgic memories of my youth tend to be suspect as I recently learned the hard way watching LOVE AT FIRST BITE for the first time in decades. I'll probably ignore this lesson and watch the original ARTHUR again sooner or later, but for now, my poor memory allows me to assess this 2011 remake strictly on its own merits.
Arthur (Russell Brand) is the completely irresponsible and terminally sloshed heir to the Bach family fortune. To what degree he can, he squanders his wealth doing things like buying the Batmobile and giving money to strangers. It's his way of getting back at his mother Vivienne (Geraldine James) for never being a true parent to her son. The closest thing Arthur has to real friends and family are his driver Bitterman (Luis Guzman) and his nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren).
Fed up with her son's behavior, in particular the way it affects potential investors, Vivienne gives Arthur an ultimatum: either he marries Susan (Jennifer Garner) and settles down, or he will be disinherited. At first Arthur agrees to his mother's terms, but he begins to have second thoughts after a meet-cute with perky tour guide Naomi (Greta Gerwig).
At it's best when it aims simply to amuse, ARTHUR stumbles when it tries to achieve pathos. The relationship between Mirren's Hobson and her charge should be the emotional center of the movie, but while Brand is quite capable of being funny, he fails to connect when it's time to get serious. For her part, the usually excellent Mirren doesn't let her character's guard down enough. Sure, we know her character cares about Arthur, but we don't feel it, and scenes that should tug at our heart strings instead come off as cold and awkward.
At least Jennifer Garner seems to be having fun playing Susan, the girl Arthur is supposed to marry but doesn't want to. This could have been a standard issue bitch role, but Garner manages to walk a fine line here. Sure, her main reason for marrying Arthur is for the status that comes with his last name, the one thing her own family's riches can't buy. But at the same time she doesn't seem like a completely awful person, and despite the movie trying to convince us otherwise, in some ways she's probably a pretty good match for the pickled millionaire.
But of course ARTHUR is a fantasy that demands a more pure love interest, which we're given in the form of Gerwig's Naomi. Both naïve and wise, quirky but down to earth, Naomi feels less like a real human being than some screenwriter's invention. Likeable, sure, but believable? Not so much.
The token nods to the damage wrought by alcoholism feel forced, and the resolution to the romantic quandary is obvious and predetermined. Bottom line, I never truly felt invested in Arthur's plight. It's kind of hard to feel sorry for a guy who never had to work a day in his life, and whose biggest dilemma is choosing between a hot kinky brunette who at one point says he can still have other women as long as he shares, and a cute blonde who actually finds a drunken this drunken lout endearing.
Like most happy drunks, Arthur will have you laughing for a while, but eventually he gets tiresome. With ARTHUR clocking in at nearly 2 hours in length, that's definitely enough time for Brand and the film to wear out their welcome. Still,ARTHUR has a decent amount of laughs, and that's all most people want out of a comedy, isn't it?. 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.