Arthur Directed by Jason Winer
Even the ads are apologetic. "Meet the World's Only Lovable Billionaire"-as if nervously trying to talk us out of class resentment we haven't even copped to yet. Scenes seem scripted to defuse anticipated critiques: asked, in the ten minutes of the movie, if he feels guilty throwing money around during a recession, playboy Arthur (Russell Brand) innocently inquires: we're in a recession? Cut to him withdrawing bills from an ATM and making it rain on deli full of New Yorkers: "We're in a recovery!" And out.
If Arthur's redistribution of wealth strikes you as perhaps a bit condescending, than evidently Brand's puppydoggish inflections aren't working on you. This remake of the Studio 54-era Dudley Moore-Liza Minnelli-John Gielgud semi-classic, tailored to its star's hedonistic-abandon schtick, proceeds from the assumption that obscene wealth is somehow less suspect if the bearer is childlike. Is this true? Isn't "trust-funder" the worst thing one Brooklynite can call another?
Regardless, both Arthur and Arthur treat New York as a private playground, beginning with a comic-panel opening credits sequence that segues into Brand, in full superhero costume, getting soused and taking the Batmobile out for a high-speed car chase before crashing into a public monument. (He doesn't drive drunk, of course! He's loveable-he has a dimwitted chauffer, played by Luis Guzman, crash his custom cars for him.)
It's not just that Arthur still has a nanny (Helen Mirren, relishing her moment as Hollywood's go-to dispenser of curt Brit quips). When not being suspiciously sagelike about Arthur's instant-gratification lifestyle, Brand widens his eyes and softens his consonants; his life, as the dissipated sole heir to some financial-sector megocompany consists of endless drinking (product placement from Maker's Mark), watching cartoons, buying elaborate toys (a hovering magnetic bed; suits of armor' multicolored Underoos) and romping about through iconic Manhattan locations (many profiles arranged during the production focused on the film's descent into midtown's sidewalks and parks).
Arthur falls hard for Naomi (Greta Gerwig), an aspiring picture-book author in a romper and scrunchy white socks, when she leads a tour group into Grand Central and has them lay down on the floor to gaze at the stars on the ceiling. He later one-ups her by shutting down the whole terminal for a private date, complete with customized Pez dispensers and rose petals strewn across the empty Main Concourse. Fuck those commuters!
Unlike the cartoonishly controlled fianc —e (Jennifer Garner) hand-picked by Arthur's frigid, disapproving mother (Geraldine James, doing pretty much the exact opposite of her upper-crusty breast-feeder from Little Britain), Naomi represents a way for Arthur to grow up without abandoning his allegedly endearing sense of wonder and fun. How to become a man worthy of the girl you read Frog and Toad Are Friends with? Here, the answer is sobriety. The ending of Arthur suggests that the prerogatives of class are all well and good-Manhattan can remain a personal amusement park-as long as Arthur is prepared to give up drinking, his one really adult vice and democratic indulgence. I would never in a million moons over New York City begrudge Brand (a producer here) his real-life sobriety, but Arthur is obsessed with policing the pleasures it invites us to share in.
Maybe that's why the comedy feels so reigned-in, too. TV director Jason Winer paces gags for a 22-minutes-and-commercials runtime-the Batmobile ride, the cash handouts, Brand's havoc-wreaking at the restaurant where he's supposed to propose to Garner, all end before they're allowed to build any momentum. There's no sense of structure to the gags, just a listless parade of momentarily shiny objects.
Opens April 8