I first saw Arthur in the summer of 1981. I was 11 years old and I loved it. The rest of my friends were at Superman II (for, like, the third time), but there was something about this boozing millionaire playboy (Dudley Moore) and that unforgettable belly laugh that made the comedy irresistible and forever planted it firmly on my all-time guilty pleasures list.
Thirty (ouch) years later, I still love Arthur, only now, there are plenty more reasons why. John Gielgud, playing Arthur’s proper-but-deliciously sardonic butler, was brilliant. The jokes, most of which could’ve easily been throwaway gags in a lesser script, have such playful vibrancy. The movie itself has a very gentle quality to it. And there’s a reason the role became Moore’s signature one — he was endearing without being obnoxious.
Oh … and yes, I still do love Moore’s laugh. Makes me miss the little guy something fierce.
By comparison, the new Arthur remake is a cartoon. A film that, on paper, doesn’t stray too far from its source material but somehow, when all is said and done, ends up miles away.
In this updated version, Russell Brand (Get Him To The Greek) plays Arthur as more of a man-child. True, the boy does love his liquor something fierce, but the sauce seems secondary to his juvenile nature. While Moore’s Arthur had a choo-choo train, Brand’s Arthur has a Batmobile (which he crashes on Wall Street during the film’s out-of-place opening credits), a magnetic bed, wind-up toys at the breakfast table and a screening room that plays Looney Tunes 24/7.
Why? Because he can, I suppose.
Thankfully, the bulk of the movie pretty much follows the late Steve Gordon’s original script; Arthur is forced to marry socialite Susan (Jennifer Garner), who comes complete with a rich bully of a father (Nick Nolte), despite the fact that he finds romance with a charming tour guide (Greta Gerwig, who I actually found more charming than Liza Minelli’s waitress). Oh and Hobson is here too, only three decades later, the hired help experiences a gender switcheroo, as Helen Mirren takes on the role. And Mirren is …well, it’s Helen Mirren for crying out loud, tough to go wrong there.
And really, there isn’t anything terribly wrong with Arthur … well, other than the fact that a re-make was rather unnecessary and so is a lot of the behaviour within it. Why, for instance, when Arthur visits ailing Hobson in the hospital (a scene that should be more touching than silly), does he insist that she put on a talking Darth Vader mask?
Sigh. Because he can. That’s why.
Out of a possible five stars, I’ll give Arthur a two-and-a-half. The feature is currently playing at the Pen-Mar Cinema Centre in Penticton.
Jason Armstrong is a movie reviewer living in the Okanagan.