There is a scene considerably early on in “Arthur” in which the wealthy Scotch-loving title character (played by Russell Brand) and the plain New York girl whom he falls for (Greta Gerwig from “Greenberg”) go on their first official date, consisting of a romantic private dinner in the center of the spacious Grand Central Station. Admittedly, the interaction between these two characters that come from opposite ends of the social spectrum are sweet and fun to watch during this noteworthy incident. The two lead actors have a magnetic natural chemistry and what they were saying had me immersed.
Alas, this particular five-to-ten minute sequence is the most remarkable part in a mostly unexceptional comedy. “Arthur” is a remake of the classic 1981 comedy of the same name, which boasted an excellently eccentric lead performance from the late English actor Dudley Moore and an Academy Award-winning supporting role from John Gielgud. Having watched it quite recently, the original has aged unexpectedly well for itself. It retains a timeless charm and exudes unadulterated sweetness, which both go hand-in-hand with the number of laughs it provides. While this remake is not as big of a disaster as it could have been, first-time feature director Jason Winer cannot achieve the pureness exercised close to three decades ago. Whereas that one had very little (if any) product plugs, the new one has entire scenes dedicated to famous movie cars and Darth Vader helmets.
Just like the original, Arthur Bach is a frivolous and carefree playboy who can down more booze than most normal human beings should be able to handle. He is also the sole heir to the abundant Bach family fortune. Seeing as he obviously is not entirely competent on a maturity level to handle the family business, his mother (Geraldine James) sets him up to marry Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner), an upper-class woman. On one hand, he is not especially infatuated with the girl. On the other, he may not be able to function in the real world after countless years in the lap of luxury, so naturally he sticks this idea through.
But Arthur gets cold feet after he meets Naomi Quinn, an independent young woman who he feels an immediate connection with. Though she does not have the riches, she is quite lovely, sweet and has a winning personality. Gerwig’s portrayal of the role originally filled by Liza Minnelli is inquisitive (in a good way) as she plays sort of a modest everywoman; not attractive in the vein of, say, the Megan Fox’s of the world, but very good-looking. She is unlike any of the women Arthur is used to, and that is probably what makes her so mesmerizing to him.
Also in the film is Helen Mirren, who takes over Gielgud’s character of Hobson. She plays Arthur’s nanny who has been caring for this manchild ever since he was a child and provides some of the script’s drier and wittier quips. Luis Guzmán sporadically shows up as Bitterman, who acts as the boy’s chauffeur and occasionally participates in Batman cosplay with him. And a small appearance by Nick Nolte makes you question why HE isn’t playing the crazed alcoholic.
The execution is ultimately better than most remakes tend to go, but is nevertheless forgettable save for the cast and the one great scene I mentioned before. Russell Brand plays more or less the same character he always does and the laughs do not come as easily and earnestly as they should. The way I see it, “Arthur” serves merely as a star vehicle for Brand and to introduce and modernize Arthur’s drunken antics to a newer generation. All that is well and good, but if you ask me, you should stick with the Dudley Moore version.