Friday 15 November 2019

Movies: Arthur **

(12A, General Release)

Russell Brand adopts a squeaky voice and stretches his acting abilities to the limit
Russell Brand adopts a squeaky voice and stretches his acting abilities to the limit
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

The original Arthur, released 30 years ago, was a key moment in the career of Dudley Moore. It made him a big star but would also be his high-water mark in Hollywood and after it he began a slow descent towards irrelevance.

Russell Brand approaches this remake on the crest of a similar wave. He has shot from nowhere to Hollywood stardom in a couple of years on the back of charismatic supporting turns in rom-coms and comedies. He looks set for big things, but should heed the experience of Dudley, who destroyed his career through bad script choices and personal chaos. Hopefully, Brand will do better, but he might have started by turning this remake down.

In a Jason Winer film that adheres pretty closely to the plot of the original, Brand is Arthur Bach, the spoilt and lonely layabout heir to a multi-million dollar business empire. Arthur lives in an impossibly glamorous Manhattan penthouse and spends most of his time getting drunk, crashing his luxury cars and throwing extravagant parties. His father died when he was a child, his mother Vivienne (Geraldine James) is a remote and frosty business magnate, and Arthur's closest relationship is with his nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren), who raised him and is still cleaning up his messes.

Vivienne Bach considers her son to be a hopeless idiot, and in order to secure the future of the Bach business empire she has arranged a compulsory marriage. If Arthur agrees to wed Vivienne's hugely ambitious assistant Susan (Jennifer Garner), he will get to hang on to his $950m inheritance: if he says no, he'll be cut off without a penny. This presents Arthur with a dilemma, because not only can he not stand the beautiful but psychotic Susan, he has also fallen in love with Naomi (Greta Gerwig), a penniless waif from Queens who gives illegal tours of Grand Central Station.

How Arthur resolves all this I will leave to your imagination. Nick Nolte phones in a portrayal of Susan's supposedly terrifying father, Garner does a fairly decent job of making a cypher mildly interesting, and Mirren is as withering as you might expect as Arthur's long-suffering nanny. If the comic spark between her and Brand never quite takes off that's the fault of a fairly flat script rather than them, and Arthur does at least make a decent fist of its story's romantic elements.

What it doesn't do is make you laugh, and in playing the child-like hero Brand has chosen to adopt a squeaky, kiddish voice that starts to grate shortly after he first opens his mouth. Brand has worked best in supporting roles: playing this lead has stretched him well beyond his comfort zone and to the outer limits of his acting range.

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