Friday, April 15, 2011

Opening Scenes: ‘Arthur’

By Chip Schrader
Movie Reviewer
“Arthur” begins with a close up of a man putting on Batman’s gloves followed by a scanning shot of liquor bottles. The montage continues with scenes of Russell Brand dressing as Batman and an impressive collection of bottled hard liquor. After blowing bubbles, Brand greets “cheers” and downs a strong drink before enter the Batmobile with a man dressed in green bikini briefs posing as Robin. A high-speed chase down New York City ensues, and comes to a hilarious and symbolic end with the Wall Street bull crashed on the hood. Brand answers the officer, “I have remained drunk since our last encounter.”
While these first scenes are well covered in the previews and commercial spots, there is plenty of fun left for the rest of the movie. Russell Brand reprises the role of Arthur with the expected manic and witty persona that makes him the cross-comedic offspring of Robin Williams and Monty Python. He delivers his lines clean as the cut of a scalpel, but brings an emotional depth that was lacking in Dudley Moore’s portrayal.
Brand’s personal struggle with addiction seems to allow him to bring a sense of tragedy to the role, and expands his range as an actor as he can be serious, heartbroken, and hilarious at the turn of a scene. He is well balanced by Helen Mirren’s role of Ms. Hobson, Arthur’s nanny. The man who never grew up is well matched by her wit and her maternal wisdom while his own mother keeps him at arm’s length.
Arthur’s love interest, Naomi, has an interesting story with her dream to write children’s stories and rise above poverty. The character is not far from the original version portrayed by Liza Minnelli, but sadly, she comes off as simple-minded and sappy, rather than as a real person. It makes for a nice contrast to Arthur, whereas his moral match, Susan, is played adequately by Jennifer Garner. Like Naomi, Susan doesn’t seem like a very challenging character, but amusing at the very least.
While the most important elements of the story from the original version are intact, along with one or two vital scenes, the majority of the film takes a different sequence and completely different scenes to update the story. The economic decline, Paris Hilton-like faux pas, and seventies and eighties film references bring a great deal of interest to the new version.
Bottom line: while “Arthur” is neither beautifully shot nor does it have strong supporting characters, Brand and Mirren are dynamite. If anything, “Arthur” is proof that Brand is ready to have top billing, and is capable of carrying a two-hour movie from beginning to end. He keeps the audience laughing and believing every scene. Even with Naomi being an oversweet character, their romance works. The humor is quick, thoughtful, and most importantly, funny. The elements of humanity and human struggle Brand brings to Arthur is sincere, but doesn’t bring the mood of the movie down. This human element was woefully missing from the original. 3.5 out of 5.
Photo caption: (Courtesy movie poster from “Arthur”)