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Movies: A Tale of Two Arthurs

Arthur-batman
 Arthur in the Batsuit. The Schumacher Batsuit of course, the one with the nipples.

GuestbloggerNATHANIEL ROGERS
...would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

 
YOUR FEATURE PRESENTATION
The more things change the more they stay the same? The comedy Arthur (1981) opened during a recession and high  unemployment rates. Here we are again in 2011 when all but the richest are hurting and that drunken millionaire is rearing his head again. He's hoping you'll laugh with him or at him -- either will do as he has no shame. The first time around audiences did just that. They embraced Arthur's reckless entitlement and threw millions more into his seemingly bottomless coffer, turning the film into one of the biggest blockbusters of early 80s cinema.

The remake, also named ARTHUR (2011) is in some ways a recreation with virtually the same character in a nearly identical plot. The few changes are cosmetic though Arthur's net worth hasn't changed all that much, rising from $750 million to $950 million, which has to be the smallest bump that any über-wealthy American has received over the past 30 years of the country's widening economic gap.  "Hobson," Arthur's confidant, protector and enabler is also virtually the same but for a gender change: goodbye Sir Gielgud, hello Dame Mirren.

Greta Gerwig has the unenviable task of stepping in for Liza Minnelli.

MORE, AFTER THE JUMP...

Arthur-original

Arthur-garnerThe biggest changes involve the rivals for Arthur's hand (and fortune). Minnelli's memorably sassy shoplifter soulmate has been transformed into a relatively quiet children's book author and the movie seems to have no idea what to do with Gerwig's abundant offbeat charm (have you seen her in Greenberg?). The screenplay oddly insists that Russell Brand be the only attraction in this Romantic Comedy pairing. It's simple emotional math but Romantic Comedies that are only in love with one of the lovebirds are usually the weakest ones. The movie can't even decide if she should dress kookily or not.

The role of Susan Johnson, Arthur's wealthy fiance, originally played with deadpan Stepford impenetrability by Jill Eikenberry, is completely remade as a horny overachieving golddigging shrew for Jennifer Garner.

 Arthur (1981) got much of its irreverent comedic fire from the bad behavior from every member of the ensemble, having no need to vilify Susan or absolve Arthur. Garner goes wildly over the top with it, but what else is there to do? When handed a completely offensive stereotype, take no prisoners. Why should comedy baby-proof its corners? Arthur is the same bubble-bath loving, money-burning child but this time he's sweeter, less sex-crazed and even repentant about the boozing. Twelve-step is good for the soul but no great boon to comedy.

It's all a question of scale really. The character flaws are downsized but everything else gets growth hormones. It wasn't enough for the new Arthur to careen through traffic as if his chauffeur was drunk on second hand alcohol, this time he's got to do be doing it in a Batmobile, while in superhero garb. The new film always opts for bigger making it infinitely more cartoonish. At the rate Arthur spends money here, he'd be a pauper in the sequel even with the extra 200 million. Arthur (2011) is even bigger in a literal sense. Russell Brand's got eleven inches on Dudley Moore.

Despite the supersizing and all the jokes that do land, and there are quite a few, it's the runt of this two puppy litter.

Arthur-scale

ALSO OPENING: Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones) is a teenage killer in HANNA co-starring Cate Blanchett; Natalie Portman stars with Jame Franco and Danny McBride in the medieval comedy YOUR HIGHNESS; Michelle Williams continues building her Great Actress rep in the western MEEK'S CUTOFF leaving Dawson's Creek further and further behind (did we all imagine it?); inspirational sports drama tropes await you in SOUL SURFER; Michael Angara has an obsessive crush on Uma Thurman (we've all been there, right?) in CEREMONY; And Keanu Reeves returns to screens in the indie comedy HENRY'S CRIME.

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Comments

  1. I was very disappointed in this remake. Russell Brand is a very funny fellow but this film uses him badly. He's not reeally suited to this role as he's not even so much as vaguely upper class. Helen Mirren does better but Greta Gerwig is weak tea next to Liza and Jennifer Garner is playing a psychotic. One half-expects her to come after Arthur with an axe.

    The tocuhstones for the 1981 film were 30's comedies like "My Man Godey." The remake knows nothing about the 80's much less the 30's.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Apr 8, 2011 7:46:47 PM


  2. You wrote: "goodbye Sir Gielgud, hello Dame Mirren." Once in Oxford on a visit, I was chastised by an English don who pointed out that the correct usage is Sir + [first name] or Dame + [first name]. (It's also correct to say "Sir John Gielgud" in addition to "Sir John," but never "Sir Gielgud.") Hey, it's not my criticism, but that's how the English use their titles.

    Posted by: John | Apr 8, 2011 9:08:46 PM


  3. dudley moore was always so funny to me as a kid. and there was something very sad about him as well...i cant explain it but i have a soft spot for him.

    Posted by: bostonbeat | Apr 9, 2011 12:06:18 AM


  4. I always loved the original as a kid, I remember seeing it in my early teens on the vcr. It doesn't surprise me that you say Greta Gerwig character because where has she been in the ads. I've seen the trailer on tv and a few movie posters but only one poster even featured her. I guess I'll check it out on dvd iin a few months.

    Posted by: colin | Apr 9, 2011 12:38:07 AM


  5. Another absurdly bad idea coming out of Hollywood. No surprise, unfortunately.

    Posted by: Pitt90 | Apr 9, 2011 1:23:41 AM


  6. Why would you choose a runt to lead your item item without the benefit of real content..? Readers expect MORE after the jump than trailers to moves that aren't your top pick.

    Posted by: my2cents | Apr 9, 2011 2:21:26 AM


  7. Awful . . .just awful!
    Save your money unless your wish 90 minutes of total boredom!

    Posted by: EJ | Apr 9, 2011 8:00:05 AM


  8. It's not "Dame Mirren." It's "Dame Helen."

    John Lennon would not have been called, "Sir Lennon," or Winston Churchill called, "Sir Churchill."

    Posted by: Danny | Apr 9, 2011 8:37:25 AM


  9. If Russell Brand "has 11 inches on Dudley Moore" this mess should easily find a Niche Audience to compensate for its lack of interest for everybody else....

    Posted by: gregory brown | Apr 9, 2011 9:10:00 AM


  10. The box-office expectations for the original "Arthur" were never that high--it was something of a genuine sleeper.

    Posted by: ANON IN SO CAL | Apr 9, 2011 12:17:47 PM


  11. "EAT YOUR ROLL!" "Oh, you're a HEDGE!" "You've probably never run out of ice your whole life." "..and if she murdered the tie, it'd be an even better crime." "Usually one must go to a bowling alley to meet a woman of your stature." "I'll alert the media." "You have a very lovely.........hat."

    Not even going to bother with the remake--the original is sublimely fixed in my memory.

    Posted by: Dback | Apr 9, 2011 5:13:43 PM


  12. @dback - The one-liners in the remake are the only high points. Brand was very funny when given something actually funny to say or do. I enjoyed his conversation with his high-powered mother where she referred to Obama as "the lovely, coffee-colored man who runs this country..."
    "I'm not sure you can say coffee-colored."
    Weird, unexpected bits like that had me chuckling all through, but the rest was pretty sad. The actress playing Naomi was utterly inert - nothing for Brand to react with. Sheesh.

    Posted by: BK7BMB | Apr 9, 2011 6:31:30 PM


  13. "Source Code" is a smart, exciting sci-fi thriller which is also surprisingly emotional.

    Posted by: jaragon | Apr 9, 2011 9:58:41 PM


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