Remakes have become a staple in films in recent years, creating a divisive debate among movie fans. Some believe that a fresh perspective can help the current generation to appreciate a classic story; others believe that it is due to a lack of film industry creativity. The 2011 incarnation of Arthur, starring Russell Brand in the title role, is a case of a film remake that would have been better off as a different story entirely, rather than to attach the title and characters from the 1981 Dudley Moore classic, Arthur. Prior to screening Arthur, I had made it a point to watch the original version to form a good basis of comparison.
Much like in the original version of Arthur starring the late Dudley Moore, Arthur Bach (played by Russell Brand) is a wealthy, wacky fellow without a care in the world. However, this can not last forever as the reputation of Bach Worldwide is often under scrutiny as a result of Arthur's free-wheeling ways. The gauntlet is thrown down and Arthur is given the choice of being cut off from his fortune or marrying the definitive go-getter in Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner). Along the way, Arthur encounters a delightful young lady named Naomi (Greta Gerwig) and ends up falling for her. With the help of his loyal nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren), Arthur must figure out how to sort out his feelings and finances.
While following more or less the same plot, the 2011 remake of Arthur fails to capture any of the charm of the original Arthur. The raunchy 80's version has been turned into a pseudo-edgy romantic comedy that displays how far we have come as a society. Arthur clocks in about twenty minutes longer than the original 1981 film in order to adjust for the changes in the updated plot. This made the movie start to feel as though it were dragging on during the final act. Shifting the focus to give the blossoming relationship between Arthur and Naomi more of a “romantic comedy” vibe causes Arthur to limp on, losing a lot of the film’s comedic momentum in the process. As Arthur progresses, the movie seems to press harder and harder to get laughs. For instance, if Arthur has to resort to putting Helen Mirren in a Darth Vader mask and having her say silly things to get a laugh, someone ran out of ideas.
Despite its flaws, there were some parts of the film that managed to work well. Russell Brand's version of Arthur is a fair successor to Dudley Moore's. His style of humor lends itself to capturing the feel of this lovable, drunken character. Helen Mirren is brilliantly dry as Hobson, and Jennifer Garner is fun as Susan. Rookie director, Jason Winer (best known for his work on TV's Modern Family), does a great job by shooting on location in New York City, giving the locals something to point out (for example, New Yorkers will recognize Dylan’s Candy Bar). As with the original Arthur, the city is a fine backdrop, and though a painfully cheesy scene, Arthur being able to rent out Grand Central Terminal for his first date with Naomi plays as impressive, nonetheless.
The cast of the updated Arthur did a fair job with their respective roles; it was the differences in the plot that ultimately hurt this film. This film would have fared much better had they taken Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, and Jennifer Garner and just gave the movie a completely different title. In the original Arthur, the title character lived with his butler and it was his father who threatened him by cutting him off. While I have no problem with shifting the gender of characters, it did feel like an unnecessary reach for political correctness.
Occasionally you will see the rare remake that manages to improve on the legacy of the original film. Unfortunately, 2011’s Arthur does not. I'm just glad that they never tried to remake the classic theme song from 1981’s Arthur, by Christopher Cross. That said, if you’re looking for a romantic comedy with the Russell Brand flair, you should enjoy Arthur, however if you are looking to see something on par with the original film, you are better off renting that instead.
Rated PG-13. Runtime 109 min. Theatrical release 4/8/2011.
PR.com Rating: C-