There are two unspoken rules to crafting a remake. First and foremost, classics are strictly prohibited. Secondly, if there are any trademark performances attached, it’s all the more reason not to continue onward. Jason Winer’s (T.V.’s Modern Family, Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23) Arthur breaks both amounting to nothing but another vehicle for Russell Brand to espouse his scummy humor (which was tamed in this film). The Peter Baynham (Brà¼no, Borat) script does nothing but mimic the superior source material — right down to scenes which were copied word-for-word out of Steve Gordon’s work — whereas Winer’s direction makes one thing evident: This reimaging meant nothing but a trip to the bank.
Similarly to the original, the story revolves around Arthur Bach (Brand), a hedonistic son-of-a-millionaire whose inherited fortune is hanging on by a thread. Frustrated by her son’s rampant drunkenness, Vivienne (Geraldine James), a no-nonsense businesswoman who has since disconnected herself from Arthur, cuts him a deal: Marry Susan (Jennifer Garner), an equally successful wheeler-dealer and sweetheart to the public eye, or don’t and relinquished his estate. Despite his personal conviction that marriage shouldn’t be treated as a business transaction and having a new woman in his life — Naomi (Greta Gerwig), the street-smart New Yorker who has hopes of publishing a children’s book — he chooses the money. And with $950 million on the line, who wouldn’t?
Reprising John Gielgud’s role as Hobson, Arthur’s only friend and caretaker, is Helen Mirren, who is oftentimes underutilized. Baynham and Winer chose to use the acting veteran as a mean for spewing vulgarities underneath replica Darth Vader helmets — so it’s not only a reference, but rather an obnoxious reference!
Brand is equally abhorrent; out of a supporting role, the Englishman’s libertine charm quickly runs dry. The main problem being that, regardless of the fact that he played a maniacal drunk, Dudley Moore (a.k.a. 1981’s Arthur) remained loveable throughout. Brand, however, doesn’t share the same charisma. It’s understandable — considering that he has made a name for himself by glorifying debauchery — yet at the same time, unfortunate, considering the film’s subject matter and tone — it’s lighthearted fare without the lighthearted protagonist.
Character actor, Luis Guzmà¡n is also cast, as Bitterman, Bach’s driver and confidant, whose main purpose is in the film’s opening act — a hodgepodge of Batman references — which concludes with Arthur standing above the iconic Wall Street bull statue’s crotch. Baynham works under the assumption that close-up shots of self-deprecating comedians posing beneath elephantine testicles and Puerto Rican men dressed in much too small Robin costumes, are the epitomes of comedy.
But Warner Bros’ synopsis tells a much different story. They describe Arthur as a “fresh new look at a classic story” where “Russell Brand reinvents the role of loveable billionaire Arthur Bach,” however, it’s impossible to comprehend how anyone (besides studio execs) could come to such a conclusion — especially someone who has seen its inspiration. Watching Winer’s remake is akin to watching a group of B-stock film students try to recreate Citizen Kane.