The Shallow Man Movie Review: Arthur


Relatively early on into this remake of the well-loved 1981 comedy starring Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli, the tough and intimidating and possibly nuts would-be father-in-law of the wealthy drunkard title character is extolling the virtues of his high-profile businesswoman daughter. “She once bought a crack house and turned it into a condo,” he brags. “That's funny; I once did the exact opposite,” demurs Arthur, in that slightly fake-deferential but unmistakably barbed delivery that’s a specialty of the performer playing him this time around, the British comic Russell Brand.

If that exchange—which, to my mind, is enhanced by the fact that an ultra-gruff Nick Nolte is playing the prospective father-in-law—strikes you as funny—and I’ll admit right now that it did, as it happens, make me laugh, and not just a little bit, so there you have it—well, then you’re likely to have an OK or better time with “Arthur.”

Granted, I’m not one of the odd people out there who believes that remaking “Arthur,” the definitively fractured fairy tale of a drunk millionaire who has to choose (but not really) between money and love, constitutes some form of cinematic sacrilege. Having experienced the original on DVD recently, and having considered said original a crock with a lot of good one-liners and some excellent bravura comedic performances (particularly, of course, from Moore and from John Gielgud), I wasn’t expecting too much more from this than another crock with good one-liners and so on.

Brand definitely carries the first hour with his free-associative riffing and childlike energy, making the irresponsible rich playboy a more-than-acceptable mercurial object. His various foils—Luis Guzman as an amiable but almost constantly befuddled butler, Helen Mirren doing stiff-upper-lip wisecracks and compassion in a gender-reversed version of the Gielgud role, Jennifer Garner as the manic man trap who wants to snare Arthur in a marriage—give about as good as they get. And Greta Gerwig, in the role originated by Minnelli, that of the nice-but-poor girl from the outer boroughs who captures Arthur’s childlike heart, is both magnetic and charmingly natural.

Still, it has to be said that in the picture’s second half things get bogged down in unnecessarily drawn-out plot complications which, among other things, cause both the comic energy and the disarming charm of the performers to lose more than a bit of steam. But the cinematography remains bright and shiny, the New York locations are lovingly treated, and the old Christopher Cross song is semi-enticingly evoked but never completely reprised. I know what you’re waiting for me to say, so I’ll just say it: As remakes go, I guess this is the best that they could do.

Grade: ★★★ out of 5 stars


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