If you must see Arthur, choose a theater that serves alcohol. You’ll need it.Like a 3-D adventure, this fiasco is best viewed through beer goggles. A team of moviemakers takes millions of dollars, a classic comedy and a sheet of tracing paper and produces a travesty. They had the blueprint for a great movie in the 1981 Dudley Moore-John Gielgud Arthur. Sublime performances. Wicked jokes. The soulful relationship between the rich, spoiled drunk and his sarcastic guardian. The whole algorithm was there. Their job was just to reproduce it faithfully. And they couldn’t. My head hurts. Arthur is not a did-it-all-go-wrong calamity. Its basic design flaw is clear: Russell Brand doesn’t have much talent for vulnerability. As Arthur Bach, perpetually sozzled heir of a dragon-lady businesswoman, he is presented as a poor little rich boy using booze as a shield against a life of alienation. This is a bit like casting Jason Statham as a sensitive Nobel Prize winner. Brand, a comic in the Ricky Gervais-Steve Coogan line of inflated self-regard, is best when he’s obnoxious. In Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek, he was a volatile compound of libido, entitlement and I.Q. He was appalling and very funny. In Arthur, he’s required to be a fabulously wealthy underdog. Brand has given up more than his whiskers to play the soft, warm-and-human center of this movie. He has sacrificed vital parts of his comic anatomy, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. Arthur, living in a Manhattan penthouse playpen, makes the frivolous life of an upper-class twit look like a drag. He has a fleet of iconic movie cars but no one except his dim-witted butler to go cruising with. He has a magnetically levitating bed and many hookers but no one to love. When his fire-breathing mother tries to force him into a financially advantageous marriage with a construction heiress, Arthur rebels by falling for a ditsy tourist guide. Will he choose his billion-dollar inheritance or true love? Will he renounce drink through AA? Will the denouement be a huge cop-out? Will the pain never end? Brand plays drunkenness as a kind of elevated nonchalance but never achieves the happy-go-lucky verve of Moore or Johnny Depp’s Capt. Jack Sparrow. He capers down the streets of Manhattan in a top hat, waving his scarecrow arms as if auditioning for a pantomime Alice in Wonderland. As his steely socialite fiancee, Jennifer Garner is so unpleasantly shrewish that one cringes whenever she returns to the screen. Indie movie pussycat Greta Gerwig plays the tender, salt-of-the-earth Queens girl who could be Arthur’s salvation. She’s not bad, considering that the role is so gauzy a projection of masculine fantasies that the character is utterly lacking in energy and depth. Helen Mirren, slumming in the role of Arthur’s stern but doting nanny, is more vividly alive than the rest of the cast even when the script requires her to wear a Darth Vader helmet and command, “Wash your winkie.” Gielgud won an Oscar in the original film; if there were an award for graceful acting in a disaster, Mirren could clear a space on her shelf right now.
Movie InfoCast: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Garner, Nick Nolte, Luis Guzman.
Director: Jason Wyner.
Screenwriter: Peter Baynham.
Producers: Chris Bender, Russell Brand, Larry Brezner.
A Warner Bros. Pictures release. Running time: 110 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.