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Testing the remake tolerance of the cinemagoing audience just that little bit further, Hollywood has decided that Russell Brand’s first out-and-out lead vehicle will be a remake of the cherished comedy classic, Arthur, only stoking the fire for detractors of the foppish front man, a comedian who seems to polarise opinion like no other.
Anyone familiar with Dudley Moore’s diminutive millionaire will know the drill, but for those approaching this with a clean slate, Arthur (Russell Brand) is an irresponsible, intoxicated, heir to a huge fortune. Frivolous spending, the likes of which would have made Michael Jackson blush, and immature stunts, such as hiring the batmobile whilst inebriated and driving it at top speed through the streets of New York, have led to a life changing ultimatum being presented to him; commit to an arranged marriage with Jennifer Garner’s uptight businesswoman, or lose every penny. Hardly a tough choice for the wiry lethario, that is until a chance meeting with a free-spirited tour guide (Gerwig) throws a heart shaped spanner in the works.
Thus far Brand has made a huge impact by applying his stand-up sensibilities to supporting roles – Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek – stealing scenes and the plaudits with a barrage of gags and his patented Englishman with an extensive vocabulary routine. Arthur demands so much more of him, and the initial impression is that it could be a bit of a struggle. It’s hardly a stretch for him to be playing a morally ignorant man-child with promiscuous taste lifestyle choices, his hyperactive Arthur tests you to the limits, but then it is a requisite for the script to work.
However, something happens about twenty minutes in when he stops being simply a stand-up comedian on the big screen and develops into a genuine comedy actor. Effortlessly charming, obviously ad-libbing some of the real gems that are peppered throughout the script, although it’s worth noting that Arthur is a film that will provide a perma-fixed grin rather than the belly laughs, Brand makes him worth rooting for, and as the movie unfolds, more than just a caricature.
Much of this is down to the presence of Helen Mirren, performing the gender reverse on Sir John Gielgud’s Oscar winning turn as Arthur’s steadfast butler; she is absolutely wonderful, uttering expletives and acid-tongued one-liners to any of his ill intentioned suitors, “who provided your dress, Minnie Mouse?”, Gerwig is fine as the “true love” of the story, but the real heart comes from Mirren and Brand’s verbal sparring and obvious chemistry, the scenes during which they spot celebrity lookalikes is a real hoot, which makes the eventual pay-off emotionally satisfying.
Arthur’s downfall is that it is just far too long; a tighter edit would increase the impact of the better jokes. There is no excuse for a comedy to touch two hours; there is only so much laughter that can be expelled from a discerning audience’s lungs, and this threatens to suffer from Apatow influenced bloat.
Take it on its own merits rather than being prudish about the “remake” aspect and Arthur is a very good comedy with two stand-out turns from The Queen and a former “Bizarre Column Shagger of the Year”. Word of warning though, leave before the monstrous cover of Arthur’s Theme plays over the end credits.