Published Apr 07, 2011Russell Brand has a way of making it seem like there is nothing more important in the world than the sentence he's currently delivering. He's like this in his stand-up, where his eyes widen and his speech slows while he tries very hard to follow the absurd logic of his stream-of-consciousness monologues. As Arthur Bach, inebriated billionaire, his voice inherits an additional cartoon-drunk loopiness from Dudley Moore and the 1981 film. Brand is always so committed to his not-quite-there persona that for about 40 minutes, Arthur 2011 coasts along pleasantly enough on his peculiar charisma.
But Arthur is 110 minutes and Brand plays the same few notes in almost every one of them, still doing his wide-eyed, slightly disoriented shtick through the heavy emotional scenes. Even more than the Moore version, this Arthur is a funhouse mirror image of a wealthy drunk. He pays to have Grand Central Station shut down for an hour for a date; he wanders the streets in Lincoln's jacket and hat; he even engages in a high-speed chase with the NYPD in the Batmobile, which he crashes into a massive sculpture (apparently, he gets off with a warning).
The film follows the perfunctory plot of the 1981 film: an embarrassment to his family, Arthur is forced into an engagement with Susan (Jennifer Garner), a pragmatic businesswoman, or else he will be cut-off from the family fortune. Complications, of course, arise when he falls in love with poor little manic pixie dream girl Naomi (Greta Gerwig), an unambiguously pure working-classer from Queens.
The spectacle of Arthur being drunk and bleeding money wears thin, especially with Brand's surreal acting style contrasting so strangely with the rest of the cast (Greta Gerwig's pseudo-naturalism; Nick Nolte's ludicrous machismo; and Helen Mirren's schoolmarmish deadpan, just for starters). First-time director Jason Winer's claustrophobic, haphazard compositions and editing do the material no favours ― with so many scenes shot entirely in awkward close-up, it's hard to decipher who is where in relation to what.
Certain set-pieces are so lame they practically fall off the screen, like the inevitable scene when Garner and Gerwig both show up at Arthur's apartment and the same time, one of them drunk and sexually aggressive, and our hero must try to hide one from the other while flailing around and mugging.
Still, there is a strange, unusual talent somewhere in Russell Brand's relentlessly over-the-top performance, and it can be glimpsed at certain moments, even in the film's laborious second half ― usually in his scenes with Mirren, who knows enough to act as if there's nothing funny at all about any of his shenanigans.
If nothing else, it must be said that Arthur 2011 is definitively better than Arthur 2: On the Rocks. (Warner)