The makers of Arthur would like you to believe that Russell Brand’s trademark shtick — the outspoken androgynous wastoid — is a contemporary equivalent of the leisurely comedic style of Dudley Moore, star of the Oscar-winning 1981 hit on which director Jason Winer’s rubbishy remake is based.

With baked eyes, slippery British enunciation and a real life history of drug and sex addiction, Brand embodies the freakishness of a post Michael Jackson era, of a pop culture landscape where envelope pushing artists need to work very hard to astonish, disgust and scandalise, or even to simply separate themselves from the pack.

Brand achieves the latter with effortlessness but is only capable of playing one role: the eccentric idiot, which explains his casting in Arthur, Get Him to the Greek (2010) and the upcoming remake of Drop Dead Fred.

Arthur (Brand) is a filthy rich young lad trapped inside the body of a grown alcoholic who appears to have some kind of undiagnosed intellectual disorder. Arthur gets every toy he wants, every desire catered for. In the opening scenes he dresses up as Batman, crashes his own Batmobile then showers strangers with money.

Miffed by too many ridiculous headlines, his emotionless moneybags mother gives Arthur an ultimatum: get married to the smart and sensible Susan (Jennifer Garner) or be cut off from the family fortune. Arthur agrees but meets the first girl that makes him go gah-gah — the fun-loving, pleasant and penny-less Naoimi (Greta Gerwig). So Arthur (gasp!) must choose between real love and real moolah. From that point on the boy-meets-girl plotline doesn’t deviate from precisely where you think it’s going to go.

An emotional tangent involving Arthur and his nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren) aspires to give the film some depth and achieves as much as an inflatable kids pool. It is far more effective in generating speculation about whether Helen Mirren’s credibility has finaly taken one almighty dive. Mirren emerges with her dignity intact, but only just. Not so for Russell Brand, whose slippery delivery is utterly charmless. Rather than radiating a freewheeling charm his la-di-da don’t care approach comes close to exhibiting disdain for audiences and their expectations.

Arthur is almost completely bereft of laughs. It was convenient that Brand’s character is an alcoholic; just a few scenes in it’s clear he was sloshed during the shoot, and with a script like this you’d want to be. Audiences might want to consider the same approach in order to drain whatever fun can be squeezed from this lazy and lifeless remake. Or better yet: avoid.

Arthur’s Australian theatrical release date: April 21, 2010..

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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