Movies: A Tale of Two Arthurs

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

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

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.



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.


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.