It’s a dangerous business trying to recapture movie magic, but Hollywood execs keep trying.
Thirty years ago, Dudley Moore introduced us to Arthur, a lovable but drunken millionaire playboy about to married to a wealthy heiress he did not love. “I race cars, play tennis, and fondle women,” he said, “but I have weekends off, and I am my own boss.”
The movie, Arthur, was a giant hit, coming in fourth in the year’s box office, earning four Oscar nods, winning two and spawning the number one hit Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do). It’s available on DVD and holds up very well, which is why it is a bit baffling that a remake of the same name is hitting theatres this weekend starring Russell Brand.
Remakes, of course, are nothing new. Hollywood has been recycling ideas since the beginning. For example, Cecil B. DeMille remade his own 1915 film The Golden Chance as Forbidden Fruit just six years later. The difference is that back then there was no portable archive of movies available on Blu-ray or streaming video. Take a good story, repackage it and hopefully do well at the box office. Later, in the pre-home video years, remakes were a way to breathe some life into older movies.
But times have changed. Now, via Netflix, On-Demand and Blu-ray, it’s easier and cheaper than ever to seek out and see movies like the original Arthur. So what’s the point of the remake? Well, for one thing, it’s a perfect role for the impish Russell Brand and, for another, it’s always great to see his co-star, Helen Mirren, on screen. And who knows? Maybe it’s better than the original. It wouldn’t be the first time.
With so many remakes — past, present and future — perhaps philosopher Raoul Vaneigem was right when he said, “Our task is not to rediscover nature but to remake it.”
Your enjoyment of “Arthur,” the remake of the 30 year old Dudley Moore comedy, is in direct ratio to your enjoyment of Russell Brand. His brand of Brit-speak verbal diarrhea works in small doses, the trick here is to see whether audiences will sit through two hours of word-play rivaled only by Charlie Sheen on a crack fuelled internet rant. Brand is Arthur Bach the ne’re-do-well heir to an enormous fortune. He’s a womanizing playboy, a drunk man-child whose nanny (Helen Mirren) describes as “merely shaped like an adult.” When his “savant-ish gift for defying death with fun” embarrasses his mother she brings down the hammer. Either he straightens up and marries the beautiful but all-business Susan or be disinherited. Trouble is, he`s in love with Naomi (Greta Gerwig) a charismatic Grand Central Station tour guide.
“Arthur Redux” isn’t an improvement on the original, but it isn’t a waste of time either. Brand is front and center here, chewing the scenery as though he hasn’t eaten in years. For the first hour he delivers every line as if it was a punch line, which would be OK if they were all actually punch lines, but they’re not. Brand, like the character he’s playing here, isn’t nearly as charming as he thinks he is and even though he hits the mark 40% of the time, the delivery gets tired. Luckily the movie improves when it takes a turn for the touching. The Naomi love story works because of Greta Gerwig’s natural charisma and once Mirren’s character actually becomes a character and less a sounding board for Brand’s antics, she adds some depth to the story.
“Arthur” isn’t going to erase the original from people’s minds—it’s a tad too long and a titch too predictable—but its mix of comedy and romance is almost as intoxicating as whatever Arthur swigs out of his ever-present flask. And it’s worth it to see Helen Mirren in a Darth Vader mask.