Movie review in the Friday, April 8 Oregonian....
"Arthur" reminded me of David Foster Wallace's description of professional tennis players coasting through an easy workout: "The suggestion is of a very powerful engine in low gear."
The new film remakes -- and somewhat improves upon -- the poorly aging 1981 Dudley Moore comedy, which concerned a cackling, drunken millionaire man-boy who resists an arranged marriage while courting a working-class New York woman. To be fair, the recasting is pretty great: Russell Brand replaces Moore (and leaves Moore's chalkboard-screech laughter out of his characterization -- which makes this remake better just on the level of not making my ears want to sue the rest of me for war crimes). Helen Mirren replaces John Gielgud as Arthur's dryly disapproving nursemaid, and mumblecore superstar Greta Gerwig replaces Liza Minnelli as the engagement-disrupting free spirit.
But that cast is precisely what makes the new "Arthur" so frustrating. The actors are good enough to wring occasional laughs out of remarkably slight material. Every fifth seemingly improvised line that comes out of Brand's mouth is funny in the same verbose way his stand-up is funny, and there's a sweet mini-movie in his codependent relationship with Mirren's character. But they're fighting a tired story full of pratfalls, barn-broad gags, cartoonish stuffed shirts, and the exact same story beats you've seen in a million rom-coms, right down to the wedding-aisle confrontation.
Mostly, I walked out of "Arthur" wishing Brand was putting the sense memories of his legendary hedonism to use on better material -- say, to star in an adaptation of his own hilarious and brutally honest addiction memoir "My Booky Wook," or on another "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" sequel.
(110 min., rated PG-13, Grade: C)
'Arthur' (The Oregonian, Friday, April 8, 2011)