Arthur Newman is a dull, unimaginative man, which is fitting, because Arthur Newman is a dull, unimaginative movie.
Directed by newcomer Dante Ariola and written by Becky Johnston, who also wrote the screenplays for The Prince of Tides and Seven Years in Tibet but also Prince’s Under the Cherry Moon — a warning sign if ever there were one. The film is about a failed Orlando golf pro (Oscar winner Colin Firth) named Wallace with big, unattractive glasses, a job he hates, an ex-wife and estranged son he spies on and a girlfriend (Anne Heche) with whom he seems to have little in common.
One day Wallace tells everyone he’s going camping on the beach, buys a new identity, fakes his own death — it’s that easy — and heads north to a secret dream he’s been harboring that is apparently based on him not understanding how Google works. But before he gets far, he runs into Mike (Emily Blunt). She’s wasted and getting hauled off to jail when he meets her, but listen, she’s got a man’s name, so we know she is not a criminal but merely a misunderstood free spirit. He rescues her, and pretty soon she’s roadtripping along with him.
Yes, Arthur Newman is a road trip movie, and like almost every other film in that tired genre it relies on the journey for momentum in lieu of a plot, though there’s not much in the way of travelogue (turns out they’re heading to Terre Haute, Ind., to chase Wallace’s dream). You have to wonder if anybody involved with the film has ever spent any time in the South, which is what one drives through to get from Florida to Indiana. Many marvels abound there, like sweet tea, fried okra and pecan pie, but I assure you there never has been and never will be a gas station mini mart that only serves tofu hot dogs.
As they travel along, Mike insists on following couples and sneaking into their homes to have sex, to which Arthur/Wallace agrees reluctantly (but not that reluctantly). The idea here is that as Arthur, under Mike’s wild spell, Wallace finally feels free. Problem is, Wallace and Arthur are pretty much the same delusional person, right down to the monotone voice. Wallace may even be a bit autistic, but the film never explores that possibility except for a throwaway confession about how he never was able to bond with his son. Instead, it shifts to even more unlikely events, such as Wallace’s son befriending Wallace’s girlfriend, a plotline that literally goes nowhere.
Firth and Blunt are better than this weak material deserves, but they’re merely good actors, not miracle workers. There’s only so much you can do when your script and your director are steering you into a dead end.
Cast: Colin Firth, Emily Blunt, Anne Heche.
Director: Dante Ariola.
Screenwriter: Becky Johnston.
Producers: Becky Johnston, Brian Oliver, Alisa Tager.
A Cinedigm release. Running time: 101 minutes. Sexual content, language, brief drug use. Playing in Miami-Dade: Aventura, Magnolia, South Beach, Sunset; Broward: Cypress Creek, Oakwood, Pompano, Sawgrass; in Palm Beach: Shadowood, Delray, Parisian, Royal Palm Beach.