'Arthur' is a half-right remake

Russell Brand as affable alcoholic Arthur, played by Dudley Moore in 1981.
Russell Brand as affable alcoholic Arthur, played by Dudley Moore in 1981.
Posted: April 08, 2011

When remaking a popular film, you must remember this: First, do no harm to the original.

Arthur accomplishes this, with Russell Brand slurring his way neatly through the title role Dudley Moore created in 1981: a lovable tosspot forced to choose between a staggering amount of money and love.

Brand is nimble and quick as the marinated Manhattan playboy who can indulge his most outlandish and expensive whims.

At one point, he bids against himself at an art auction, driving the price to astronomical levels by playing Punch and Judy with two numbered paddles. Might as well burn bundles of cash. He's just that rich.

Then his stern mother (Geraldine James) arranges a shotgun engagement with a briskly ambitious heiress (Jennifer Garner), the plan being that she will whip him into shape and off the gossip pages.

As in the original, the mean matriarch could not have chosen a worse time to marry him off, because Arthur has inexplicably fallen for the most unlikely girl (Greta Gerwig), a ditz from the unspeakable outer boroughs.

This is the point where Arthur's jolly spell begins unraveling. The romance between Brand and Gerwig is almost insultingly unconvincing.

You didn't quite buy Moore going gaga over a déclassé Liza Minnelli in the 1981 film, either. But at least they were the same height.

The quips fly fast and fetchingly through the first part of this frothy comedy. Many of them are delivered with dry sarcasm by Helen Mirren, taking the John Gielgud role as Arthur's starched minder.

The last part of Arthur slogs under an unfortunate burden of sentiment and sincerity.

The original Arthur was a happy dipso. We no longer believe in such a creature. The remake must lay bare the psychological underpinnings of Arthur's compulsion.

These days we know what do with drunks: Send them to meetings.

Our enlightened understanding of addiction makes for a sad and sappy last act for Arthur. Hate to say it, but the guy was a lot more fun when he was drinking.

Contact staff writer David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com. Read his pop-culture blog at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/dave_on_demand.


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