Directed By: Jason Winer
Starring: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner, Greta Gerwig, Luis Guzman, Nick Nolte, Geraldine James
The Film ***
Arthur remakes the successful 1981 Steve Gordon/Dudley Moore film about child-like drunken billionaire Arthur Bach. Russell Brand plays the title character who has managed to avoid any real work or the development of any marketable skills for most of his privileged existence. What structure exists in his life is provided by his Nanny-turned valet Hobson (Mirren) and his limo driver Bitterman (Guzman). As the sole heir of a prestigious billion dollar trust, Arthur's hard partying lifestyle is a constant source of embarassment to his icy mother, Vivienne (James). Vivienne devises a plan to secure the integrity of the Bach Trust by marrying Arthur off to Susan Johnson (Garner), the highly ambitious (and strung) daughter of successful construction businessman Burt Johnson (Nolte). Arthur has no interest in marrying Susan, but resigns himself to the task when his Mother threatens to cut him off from the family's money. The impending nuptials are further complicated when Arthur meets and falls for the free-spirited Naomi (Gerwig), who shares his sense of whimsy and may be his best chance to connect with a human being who is not an employee.
Director Jason Winer and screenwriter Peter Baynham set a daunting task before themselves in attempting a 30 years later update of such an iconic film. The performances in the 1981 original cemented the images of Moore and Gielgud in the minds of movie audiences for the remainder of their careers/lives, and writer/director Steve Gordon's screenplay was so pitch perfect that it was virtually immune to any amount of mugging/schtick that Moore could muster.
To their credit, Winer and Baynham do manage to capture much of the wit and charm of the original, with a clever screenplay and finely modulated performances from much of the cast. Winer deserves particular credit for drawing a relatively restrained performance from Brand, who gets as much mileage out of understated asides as he does from his natural motormouth tendencies. Helen Mirren is, as always, quite good as Hobson, although she does not quite succeed at the admittedly impossible task of topping Gielgud's signature late-career role. Greta Gerwig is ridiculously charming as Naomi and somehow manages to both steal scenes and elevate the performances of her fellow cast members whenever she is on screen. A scene between Gerwig and Mirren in a screening room in Arthur's penthouse could be used as demo material for a cinematic acting clinic.
Unfortunately, the film makes more than a few missteps and does not have quite the depth of its predecessor. Jennifer Garner and Nick Nolte do not fare nearly as well as the rest of the cast under Winer's direction. Their roles are so thankless and poorly conceived, that one senses their attempts to bring something interesting to the characters constantly being undermined by the screenplay requiring them to behave in arbitrary and foolish ways to advance the plot. A wedding scene late in the picture degenerates into sloppy romantic comedy cliches with multiple unearned "big moments" that don't work as either drama or farce. It is so bad that it actually casts a pallor over many of the best moments from the hour and a half that preceded it.
The film also does not have the streak of sadness that informed the original. By way of illustration, the 1981 film started with a scene of a drunken Arthur propositioning two prostitutes so pathetically that the audience sensed that they were looking down on him. This film starts out with a broadly comic scene of Arthur and Bitterman crashing an expensive movie car into a New York monument. Whether due to the differences in their ages or simply their performances, Russell Brand never quite embodies the notion of a man fumbling through his last chance at love and human connection the way Moore did. While the original certainly took some heat for occasionally making alcoholism look like fun, the remake plays even worse by trying to acknowledge this issue with an awkward scene at an AA meeting that is almost but not quite saved by Mirren.
Despite numerous flaws that prevent it from achieving the depth that would be necessary for it to reach its full potential, the film's many charms, especially through its first half, make it an enjoyable entertainment
The Video ***½
The 1080p high definition presentation approximates the film's original theatrical aspect ratio by filling the entire 16:9 frame and is encoded via the AVC codec. Film grain was heavier than I expected for a modern production, although it appears to be a deliberate stylistic choice. Exposures are sometimes pushed and film stocks are used that emphasize deeply saturated colors.
The Audio ***½
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless encoding of the film's soundtrack presents a fairly standard dialog-centric mix with the outstanding fidelity one would expect from a lossless encoding. Surrounds and LFE are reserved for rare effects and some scene transitions. Dialog is always clear and well integrated into the mix, and the frequent pop songs and score interludes sound robust and very "hi-fi". Dolby Digital 5.1 alternate language dubs are provided in French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The Extras **
When the disc is first played, the viewer is greeted with the following skippable promos presented in AVC encoded video:
- Warner Blu-ray Promo (1:53)
- WB INsider Rewards Promo (1:17)
Proper extras consist of three brief features, all presented in AVC-encoded high definition video:
Arthur Unsupervised (11:17 - Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio) is a hybrid featurette that mixes talking head EPK-style interview comments from cast and filmmakers with numerous outtakes from the film and behind the scenes footage, mostly involving alternative improvised lines of dialog. It concludes with a montage of still images that were taken for scenes in the film where photographs of Arthur were needed. Topics covered include the outtakes, the blending of scripted and improvised material, the cast and their chemistry. On-camera comments are provided by Director Jason Winer, Russell Brand ("Arthur"), Jennifer Garner ("Susan"), Helen Mirren ("Hobson"), and Greta Gerwig ("Naomi").
Additional Scenes (10:21 - Dolby Digital 2.0 Audio) is a collection of seven deleted, extended, and/or alternate scenes from the film. They are not individually selectable from the "special features" menu, but each scene is given its own chapter stop:
- Remember the Komodo Dragon? is an alternate extended version of a scene where Arthur and Hobson discuss Naomi and Arthur's impending proposal to Susan.
- Stung by Love Wasps is an extended dialog scene between Arthur and Bitterman outside the tower that Susan's father is constructing with additional discussion of Naomi and Arthur's feelings towards her. It also includes additional dialog between Arthur and one of Burt's employees.
- The Walk to Naomi's is a deleted scene in which Arthur and Naomi have a conversation while walking to her apartment from the subway station.
- Employment Office Meltdown is an extended scene of Arthur in an employment office in which he interacts with more employees and fellow job applicants than in the finishes film via a humorous montage.
- Dressing for Anonymity is an extended scene in which Arthur tries on various costumes before going into an AA meeting with Hobson.
- Apology Breakfast is a deleted scene in which Arthur presents Hobson with a breakfast in bed and apologizes to her
- I'm a Slippery Eel is an alternate scene in which Bitterman makes an effort to get Arthur out of the bathtub and into his wedding clothes. It is more serious/less funny than the theatrical version.
Gag Reel (1:22 - Dolby Digital 2.0 Audio) is a brief montage of bloopers, ruined takes, and flubbed lines, mostly involving Brand and Mirren cut to the David Bowie song "Rebel Rebel". It is mildly amusing, but unlikely to be watched more than once by owners of the film on Blu-ray.
Finally, as with most Blu-rays of Warner theatrical new releases, this two-disc set also includes a SD DVD with Digital Copy which includes both a bare bones SD DVD presentation of the film with Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio and a choice of English SDH, French, or Spanish subtitles, and a choice of either a Windows Media or iTunes digital copy of the film for portable media devices.
The disc is enclosed in a standard Blu-ray case with die-cut holes to reduce plastic use and an extra hub on the inner left side allowing it to accommodate the SD DVD/digital copy disc as well as the BD of the film. The only insert is a sheet with the code to unlock the iTunes or Windows Media digital copy. The hard case is enclosed in a cardboard slipcover which reproduces the same art with additional promotional text highlighting the SD DVD & digital copy.
Arthur remakes the popular 1981 comedy of the same name. If features enough charm and style, thanks largely to well-modulated performances by a charismatic cast, to entertain viewers (at least those not pre-disposed to dislike Russell Brand) for most of the film, but crashes and burns in a mess of romcom cliches in its final reel. It lacks some of the darkness and depth that make the 1981 original an enduring success, but merits a rental for the easy pleasures of its first 80 or so minutes. Audio and video are acceptable but far from spectacular, and extras are fairly sparse, including a featurette blending outakes and electronic press kit-style interviews with the cast and director; seven deleted, extended, and/or alternate scenes; and a gag reel.