DVD blog review ‘Arthur’: No longer a cash cow

Remaking past hits is Hollywood’s way — but the wrong way when it comes to some material. Take Arthur, a popular wealth fantasy comedy which worked in 1981 but feels off-putting amid today’s austerity. Yet the original clicked most due to casting and chemistry, not grand ostentation, and in some ways this remake (new today on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner) does too.

Its key role isn’t Arthur, the fabulously wealthy and frivolous New Yorker who behaves like an overgrown boy but becomes smitten by an ordinary girl and changes his ways — including his heavy drinking. Russell Brand is an amusing enough stand-in for the original’s Dudley Moore, though he’s saddled with a serious side that doesn’t wear well (with lots of preachy focus on his alcoholism and an unlikely romantic side).

Nor is the key role that of the zany girl of modest means who inexplicably catches his eye. Liza Minnelli was horribly miscast in the original, and Greta Gerwig is a charm-challenged B-teamer in this one.

No, the key role is that of Arthur’s butler/nanny, Hobson, the original’s butler being John Gielgud, whose acidic wit and putdowns of his charge earned him an Oscar, and the remake’s nanny being Helen Mirren, who’s not as funny but nails the maternal bonding that enables us to channel some love for a questionably lovable drunk.

The plot (faithful to the original, even to the point of some dialogue) involves an arranged marriage between Arthur and a soulless rich girl, played with painfully unfunny intensity by Jennifer Garner, and the threat that he’ll lose his inheritance if he chooses Miss Ordinary instead. It might work well enough as a slight romantic comedy except this Arthur detours into heaviness with little humor in its last half-hour, getting all serious on us about love and booze while forgetting to entertain.

Chalk up the film’s poor box office ($33 million) to this. A comedy should leave ’em laughing. This one doesn’t.

Up to the end, though, it’s rather agreeable, with Brand doing his brash best to make Arthur the life of any party, and Mirren anchoring the film with her steely resolve. And the production values are as high as Arthur on a bender.

I do think this Arthur is much better than its heaps of piling-on reviews, and it was fun seeing the Batmobile and the Back to the Future time machine in Arthur’s garage

Oops –I’m succumbing to the wealth fantasy. Must have sold out. But amid this film’s somber booze bent, that’s preferable.

Hey Arthur — how about throwing a million my way?

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