‘Arthur’: The Reviews Are In!

Russell Brand's remake is 'a sporadically charming riff,' critics say.

In the summer of 1981, legendary href="http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9B00E1D81038F934A25754C0A967948260&partner=Rotten%20Tomatoes"
target="_blank">New York Times film critic Vincent Canby called “Arthur” a “terrifically engaging, high-spirited screwball comedy.” The movie would go on to become the fourth-highest-grossing film of the year and nab four Oscar nominations, including one for its star, Dudley Moore.

Russell Brand’s 2011 remake of the classic comedy is neither attracting the critical plaudits nor anticipating the boffo box office performance and awards season love of its predecessor. Which is not to say critics have found nothing to celebrate in this new “Arthur.” Most reviewers have responded positively to Brand’s performance. What they take issue with is the deviations the new movie has taken from the original — not so much in a storytelling sense, but in thematic and comedic ones. For those critiques and more, read on for what the pros are saying about “Arthur.”

The Story

“Brand’s character, Arthur Bach, is heir to a billion-dollar fortune who spends his days and nights drinking, dressing up as Batman, carousing through New York, and generally living the high life. In all things he is supervised by Hobson (Helen Mirren), his nanny since childhood and surrogate mother. His actual mother, Vivienne (Geraldine James), disapproves of his nonsense and threatens to cut him off from the money if he won’t marry Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner), who comes from a wealthy family and can reassure investors that the Bach empire is in good hands. This is, in Arthur’s words, ‘a macabre conspiracy to inveigle me into a loveless marriage’ — a good example of the eloquently humorous turns of phrase at which the film occasionally excels.” — Eric D. Snider, target="_blank">Film.com

The Comparison, Part I

“Arthur, of course, is supposed to be selfish, but Dudley Moore, in the 1981 version, showed you the twinkle of innocence that Arthur’s drunkenness covered up. Even sloshed, he kept surprising himself.
Moore was a happy rascal. Brand is more like a reptile who plays at being innocent. His Arthur goes to AA (an all-too- inevitable joke), but it almost doesn’t matter if he’s drunk or not, since Russell Brand always seems to be drunk … on his one-note joy-buzzer brain. If he really wants to be a star, he may need the actor’s version of an intervention, something to stand between his talent and what looks like his relentless self-love.” — Owen Gleiberman, target="_blank">Entertainment Weekly

The Comparison, Part II

“Much of the humor in the original, more screwball ‘Arthur’ doesn’t hold up well, but the subtler, sweeter laughs in the remake feel timeless … Although the stories are essentially the same, the new ‘Arthur’ feels like a much different movie than the original, which didn’t care about any of the people who were sober. This one helps us understand where several of its characters are coming from, why they’re together and what’s funny about them. So, even if you go in with some skepticism, I bet you’ll leave convinced it was worth doing.” — Chris Hewitt, target="_blank">Minneapolis Pioneer Press

The Laughs

“But that cast is precisely what makes the new ‘Arthur’ so frustrating. The actors are good enough to wring occasional laughs out of remarkably slight material — every fifth seemingly improvised line that comes out of Brand’s mouth is funny in the same verbose way his stand-up is funny, and there’s a sweet mini-movie in his co-dependent relationship with Mirren’s character. But they’re fighting a tired story full of pratfalls, barn-broad gags, cartoonish stuffed shirts and the exact same story beats you’ve seen in a million rom-coms, right down to the wedding-aisle confrontation.” — Mike Russell, target="_blank">The Oregonian

The Final Word

“Is a sporadically charming riff on such a familiar property enough to give Russell Brand and Greta Gerwig the bumps that it feels like the industry wants for them? They’ve both been tapped, but they haven’t really had an organic moment where something they were in went from hit to phenomenon. And it feels like Hollywood wants to give them that moment. But this sort of innocuous remake, amiable and ultimately sort of dull, probably isn’t how it’s going to happen. Dudley Moore had a real moment with the original, and this is just a karaoke version.
Brand and Gerwig deserve something better than this, something more uniquely suited to their undeniable appeal.” — Drew McWeeny, target="_blank">HitFix.com

Check out everything we’ve got on “Arthur.”

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