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'Arthur' is really a Brand apart

Published April 20. 2011 05:00PM

The movie, "Arthur," while not dethroning the original comedy starring Dudley Moore, has its court jester moments of mirth.

Russell Brand, reprising the title role, has no easy task. Dudley Moore is still King "Arthur."

Brand, gifted actor that he is with an uncanny ability for spontaneous monologue, dialogue, wordplay and body language, try as he might, can only do so much to make us forget that we are, in fact, viewing a man whose life is out of control.

Despite cinema's long fascination and exploitation of portraying so-called loveable drunks, going back to W. C. Fields' film roles, Jimmy Stewart in "Harvey" and Dudley Moore's own 1981 original, what with DUI enforcement, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Students Against Drunk Driving, over-imbibing alcoholic beverages is no laughing matter.

This time, Arthur (Brand) is an even more mega-rich Manhattanite who stands to loose his inheritance unless he agrees to marry Susan (Jennifer Garner), the professional go-getter his mother (Geraldine James) has approved for him.

A chance meeting with a Grand Central Terminal tour guide, Naomi (Greta Gerwig) turns Arthur's head, sparking his child-like sense of wonderment and amazement.

His mother and Susan plow ahead with the wedding plans. Quite a bit, though not enough, hilarity, awkward circumstances and soul-searching ensues.

"Arthur" is handsome to look at. And we're not just talking about Russell Brand. The cinematography is crisp and bright, emphasizing the glories that are New York City, especially if one is a member of the economic elite.

Arthur lives in a penthouse atop the Pierre Hotel, off Central Park South. He has a round bed that somehow magnetically floats above the floor of his expansive bedroom. He has a collection of movie-theme cars, including a Batmobile and a "Back to the Future" DeLorean.

Arthur is chauffered in a vintage Rolls Royce, attended to by his assistant (Luis Guzman) and supervised by a nanny (Helen Mirren, still playing Hobson, but in a gender-revision of the original John Gielgud butler role).

Jason Winer (DGA comedy directing award, TV's "Modern Family" pilot), in his feature movie directorial debut, keeps "Arthur" moving amiably. That's part of the problem.

Brand is given free-rein, and the screenplay by Peter Baynham ("Bruno," "Borat") based on the original screenplay and story by Steve Gordon, has clever quips (which may or may not be Brand ad-libs). Action, dialogue and supporting characters are underplayed, slowing the comedy and Brand down.

Brand, a cartoon-like figure himself (just look at his role in "Get Him to the Greek" and his voice work in the animated hits, "Hop" and "Despicable Me"), is at his best when unpredictable. You never quite know what he'll do or say. That's to his credit.

Garner is game for the repartee. There's a very funny scene involving the metal eyelets of her corset and that magnetic bed. Don't ask.

Mirren is her starched British upper crust best, and a nice counterpoint to Brand's freewheeling turn.

Gerwig ("Greenberg," "Baghead," "Hannah Takes the Stairs"), however, seems a bit out of her mumblecore element, although she's still an endearing presence.

Nick Nolte, in a small role as Susan's father, delivers his lines in such a low register that he's difficult to understand.

It's probably unfair to compare the new "Arthur" with the original "Arthur," given changed society morays. This being a movie review, compare we must. Suffice it to say, "Arthur," until he gets sober, still cannot stand on his own.

"Arthur," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for alcohol use throughout, sexual content, language and some drug references; Genre: Comedy; Run time: 1 hr., 50 min.; Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Cute, pop-up book drawings are shown, pages are turned and Fitz and the Tantrums perform Burt Bacharach's "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)," originally recorded by Christopher Cross, during "Arthur" closing credits.

Box Office, April 8: The Russell Brand brand rules. "Hop," with Russell Brand voicing the title role as the Easter Bunny heir hare apparent in the live-action animated comedy, was again No. 1 at the box office, $21.6 million, $68.1 million, two weeks.

To put it another way, the live-action Russell Brand, couldn't unseat the animated Russell Brand. "Arthur" opened at No. 2, with a disappointing $12.6 million.

Other movies opened in a similar range. "Hanna," an espionage thriller, opened at No. 3, with $12.3 million. "Soul Surfer," based on the true story of a young woman surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack, opened at No. 4, with $11.1 million.

5. "Insidious," $9.7 million, $27 million, two weeks; 6. 'Your Highness," a much touted comedy starring James Franco and Natalie Portman, opened with only $9.5 million; 7. "Source Code," $9 million, $28.6 million; 9. "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules," $4.8 million, $45.4 million, three weeks; 10. "The Lincoln Lawyer," $4.6 million, $46.4 million, four weeks

Unreel, April 15:

"Rio," PG: Carlos Saldanha ("Ice Age," Robots") directs the animated comedy about a domesticated Macaw from Minnesota (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) who takes off on adventure with Jewel (Anne Hathaway) to Rio de Janeiro.

"Scream 4," R: All together now: Scream for the original cast of Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette reunited with director Wes Craven. The story? It's 10 years later. Woodsboro is the last stop on Sidney Prescott's (Campbell) self-help book tour. Will the Ghostface Killer want an autograph, too? Or more?

"The Conspirator," PG-13: Robert Redford directs Robin Wright, James McAvoy, Tom Wilkinson, Evan Rachel Wood and Kevin Kline. The movie recounts the trial of Mary Surratt (Wright), charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Read previous movie reviews at Email Paul Willistein at: and on Facebook.

Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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