When remaking a much-loved, but not entirely classic movie, you’re going to get a lot of abuse thrown your way no matter what you do. Add the eternally divisive Russell Brand to the mix, and you may as well throw in the towel straight away. But is Arthur amusing? Periodically. Is Brand infuriating? Again, periodically. Enjoyment of the film depends almost entirely on your tolerance of its leading man, but it isn’t like you haven’t been warned.
A destructive ride around in the batmobile dressed as Batman and Robin sets the tone straight away. Arthur is a drunk and vulgar billionaire living off his mother’s money, generally doing whatever he likes, and sharing his penthouse with a nanny, played by Helen Mirren. He soon finds himself with a choice: marry a similarly wealthy and deranged heiress (Jennifer Garner) against his will, or lose the money and riches he’s grown so accustomed to over the years. Trouble is, he’s also fallen for Naomi (Greta Gerwig), an artistic tour-guide he’s met on the New York streetsm and can’t bring himself to tell her of his engagement.
It’s a little strange that someone would choose to remake a film about frivolous spending in the middle of a recession. The current climate is name checked once or twice, and the limitations on Naomi’s writing career are all too realistic, but the fact remains that following a man with a choice between money and love might not reflect the public mood in the right way.
There’s also the problem of Arthur’s alcoholism, which is hardly addressed (apart from a botched trip to Alcoholics Anonymous) and never fully resolved. It’s treated as a symptom of his immaturity, rather than the cause, and puts a dampener on some of the supposed comedy.
Where the film shines is with Mirren and Brand. For anyone who follows celebrity life, it’s common knowledge that the two actors are close friends in real life, something that can only help the easy bond they share on screen. As the relationship between Arthur and his faithful nanny is so integral to the film’s plot and an emotional anchor, the fact that these scenes succeed lifts the film at just the right moments. There’s a real joy in watching their easy chemistry in the more affecting parts of the film, and the veteran actress brings out the best in a dramatically inexperienced Brand.
As the comedy is largely improvised by the various actors, the ability to elicit chuckles relies entirely on whether the novelty has worn off Brand’s particular way with words. In the UK, for example, we’ve been listening to his stand-up longer than those overseas, and for those who remain unconverted, it’ll be a wonder where the comedy is supposed to come from.
For those who like his humour, however, or are just unfamiliar with the English dandy act he wears so often, there’s plenty of ace one-liners to keep you happy until the end.
Extras on this disc are sparse and uninteresting, with an extremely short gag reel lacking in any real gags, an Arthur Unsupervised featurette that offers more Russell Brand than anyone could stomach, and a group of additional scenes that single-handedly prove the worth of the editor’s scissors.
The only bit of entertainment comes from Nick Nolte’s efforts to launch Brand onto the back of a horse by his groin, and that concept is surely worth the price of the disc alone.
You can rent or buy Arthur at Blockbuster.co.uk.