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Arthur Just Too Paint-By-Numbers to Recommend

Directed by Jason Winer
Written by Peter Baynham from the story by Steve Gordon
Warner Bros., 2011

I haven’t seen the original Arthur, so you definitely won’t be seeing any, “Not as good as the original” quotes here.  I can say that the original movie was the 4th top-grossing film of 1981 behind Raiders of the Lost Ark, On Golden Pond, and Superman II.   It got nominated for 4 Oscars, and it won two for John Gielgud as Best Supporting Actor and for Original Song (Best That You Can Do).  The film’s writer/director, Steve Gordon, whose screenplay was also nominated, probably would have had a big future had he not died of heart failure the very next year at the age of 43.

Russell Brand is, by his very presence and manner in which he speaks, pretty funny.  I sometimes wonder if we stripped him of that, how funny he would be, because the man is definitely a walking and talking sight gag.  I think it’s as if Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow retired from pirating to become an actor, because Brand’s mannerisms definitely share a lot with the character.

Arthur concerns a wealthy playboy (Brand, taking over for Dudley Moore) who is an embarrassment to his business-czar family.  His mother Vivienne (Geraldine James) has been made a fool of in front of other wealthy types for the last time, so she gives Arthur an ultimatum: marry the solid financial gal Susan (Jennifer Garner), who will stabilize investors’ faith in the company, or be cut off from the billion or so dollars forever.  Now, marrying Jennifer Garner would not be so much of a problem for most men, but somehow they make her seem pretty awful, so awful that her looks and banging bod don’t seem so important.

And it might not have been such a problem to go through with it, except Arthur has just met Naomi (everygirl Greta Gerwig), a woman who makes her living giving unlicensed tours around Manhattan.  She’s a free spirit, not interested in money, the “beacon of integrity” these movies always set up.  Naomi is just the girl Arthur has been looking for, and this arranged marriage is a huge monkey wrench.  There’s a lot of pressure for this marriage; even Susan’s father Burt (Nick Nolte) seems to be threatening bodily harm if it doesn’t go through.

The only people who understand Arthur are his butler Bitterman (Luis Guzman) and his nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren, taking over for the John Gielgud role).  Hobson is Arthur’s “true” mother, and their relationship has a nice back-and-forth to it, with Hobson getting in some decent verbal blows now and again, but she truly wants what is best for Arthur underneath it all.

This movie isn’t so much awful as it is straight-forward.  There isn’t much to laugh at here, just your usual romantic comedy trappings.  Helen Mirren is fantastic, Brand is likeable, Gerwig is loveable, but it just isn’t enough really.  You can do much worse going to the movies, but it’s not a can’t-miss.

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