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A Dud Remake

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

If remaking a decidedly non-PC film about a lovable, perpetually drunk and obscenely wealthy character starring a well-liked, Oscar-nominated actor sounds like the kind of project no Hollywood studio would greenlight in todayís economic (and socio-cultural-political) climate, then youíd be wrong.

That seemingly unlikely remake, Arthur, was, in fact, greenlit, made with a British comedian, Russell Brand stepping in for the late Dudley Moore. Modernized to better fit a more moralistic climate, Arthur is an often flat, occasionally funny comedy that turns dramatic just in time for a sentimental third-act and an overly optimistic finish.

Arthur centers on a thirty-something man-child, the ďArthurĒ (Russell Brand) of the title. With access to seemingly unlimited amounts of money, thanks to his super-rich, if cold and distant mother, Vivienne (Geraldine James), Arthur spends his days in a perpetual alcohol-fueled hedonistic haze, with only his longtime nanny, Hobson (Helen Mirren), to keep him in check.

A prankster and anti-authoritarian by nature, Arthur finds new and unique ways to embarrass his old-school mum, driving to a charity event in a Burton-era Batmobile, full Batman regalia (with nipples no less), and his portly, middle-aged chauffeur, Bitterman (Luis GuzmŠn), dressed as Robin. Despite his motherís wealth, power, and influence with the cityís Powers-That-Be (since she is, after all, one of them), Arthur gets arrested, leading to negative coverage from the tabloid press.

Frustrated by Arthurís refusal to grow up and act responsibility, Vivienne hits on a perfect solution, marrying off Arthur to a trusted senior executive, Susan (Jennifer Garner). Susanís style and expensive tastes belie her non-upper-class origins as the daughter of a gruff, blue-collar contractor-turned-wealthy-real-estate developer, Burt Johnson (Nick Nolte).

To force Arthurís hand, she gives him an ultimatum: marry Susan or lose his $950 million inheritance. He reluctantly chooses the former, but a chance encounter with an eccentric tour guide, Naomi (Greta Gerwig), shakes him up, forcing him to reevaluate his choices, up to and including his pending marriage to Susan, something, somewhat understandably, Arthur conveniently forgets to mention to Naomi.

First-time feature-film director Jason Winer and screenwriter Peter Baynham (Borat), adapting the late Steven Gordonís original screenplay, saddle Arthur with daddy issues as the prime, reductive explanation for Arthurís immature, self-centered, inconsiderate behavior. He lives his life hedonistically out of a fear of dying prematurely. His motherís coldness and distance give him an additional rationale for acting out: getting his motherís attention.

For all its schematic simplicity, Arthur is, ultimately, a comedy, albeit a comedy that switches out the humor for pathos in the third, redemption-seeking act. Before the heart-wringing finale, the laughs are few and far between, relying as much on Brandís constant mugging, as the faux-cleverness of Arthurís dialogue. Itís meant to be offbeat, even cruel, but also honest in the ways of fools and drunks are meant to be (at least in fiction and on film).

Rarely, however, is consistently funny. When Arthur is at its most watchable, itís due primarily to the presence of Helen Mirren and Greta Gerwig. Both can make the most banal of lines sing, Mirren by adding bite to her lines when she admonishes Arthur (yet letting in a trace of genuine affection) and Gerwig through halting, self-conscious line deliveries that betray her characterís insecurities. When Mirren and Gerwig are offstage, however, Arthur stumbles and stutters, making the nearly two-hour running time feel interminable.