What I’m about to say is going to be shocking, so brace yourself because the truth is a bitter pill to swallow: Hollywood suffers from a lack of originality. Astonishing, isn’t it??? And we need look no further for proof than The Kardashians, reality television, and the dreaded reboot. These days, EVERYTHING is being remade or rebooted because NOTHING is off-limits (do we really need a movie version of “Candy Land” starring Adam Sandler? No? Well, guess what? We’re getting one, unless a lawsuit or, you know – common sense – derails it). However, there are very rare occasions (and i mean VERY RARE) when a reboot or a remake actually works (“You’ve Got Mail” and “3:10 to Yuma” immediately leap to mind – at least in my opinion). But more often than not, these attempts fail miserably.
Case in point: “Arthur”. No, not the PBS children’s cartoon about an anthropomorphic 3rd grade aardvark with glasses. I’m referring to the 1981 comedy classic in which Dudley Moore plays an obscenely wealthy but delightfully charming man-child whose inheritance depends upon a previously arranged marriage to a New York socialite he can’t stand (a pre-“L.A. Law” Jill Eikenberry). As a means of rebellion, Arthur spends his time and money playing with toy trains and taking bubble baths in his posh New York City apartment, racing cars, frequenting whores, playing the piano, and indulging in his favorite pastime – alcoholism – all while tossing off (mostly) slurred one-liners that are as hilarious as they are inappropriate. Having no real relationship with his father – the driving force behind the impending marital disaster – Arthur’s only real friend/father-figure is his British valet, Hobson (Sir John Gielgud in a performance that very deservedly won him an Oscar) who tolerates the young man’s antics with dry wit and deep affection. The monkey-wrench thrown into the wheel of Arthur’s financial future is Liza Minnelli’s spunky but near-penniless waitress discovered by Arthur as she’s shoplifting a tie in Bergdorf Goodman’s. The rest is predictable, but immensely watchable and never NOT funny. In fact, few movies in my lifetime have had the ability to make me smile from simply thinking about them, and “Arthur” is one that doesn’t just make me smile, but causes my face to crack wide in the silliest of grins (in fact, it’s happening at this very moment as i type).
Dudley Moore’s performance as the lovable but miserable drunk was masterful – in one moment, his Arthur can make your sides hurt from laughing, but in the next, you’ll find yourself wiping away tears from watching him struggle with emotions that are very real and that cannot be cured with money. It’s sweet, often hilarious and terribly touching, and – more importantly – it should have been left alone, and yet, Hollywood in their infinite fondness for blasphemy, cast Russell Brand in a 2011 remake that was entirely unnecessary. The end result was a mortifying mess that included Jennifer Garner’s obnoxious and embarrassing performance as Arthur’s wealthy, controlling, S&M obsessed intended, and a disastrous cover of Christopher Cross’ infectiously upbeat, Oscar-winning “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” by Fitz & The Tantrums (I nearly had a tantrum afterwards). The only saving grace to be found in this rehashed violation is … wait for it .. Dame Helen Mirren, gender-bending the role of Hobson, now Arthur’s patiently tolerant, caregiving housekeeper. And although that woman could win an Oscar simply from reading a phone book on film, I’m always dumbfounded whenever an actor of her stature takes on a role in a remake or a sequel. It’s like Michael Caine starring in “Jaws IV: The Revenge”– you don’t really understand it but you’re curious enough to watch it, and then you’re left wondering if they were just bored or really that hard-up for cash. And if you’re wondering why i haven’t said much about Russell Brand’s performance, there’s a very good reason for that – because there isn’t much to say. It was Russell Brand doing his best Dudley Moore impression, in which case you should just do yourself a favor and rent or download the original (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001EBWIUY?ref_=imdbref_tt_wbr_aiv_t1&tag=imdbtag_tt_wbr_aiv_t1-20).
The best that you can do is fall in-love with it …