Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it, as the saying goes, which is especially true of voracious studio execs with a release calendar to fill and a dearth of new script ideas.
The original Arthur dropped in 1981 when America was in the throes of a recession, and a somewhat inexplicable love affair with Dudley Moore, a once brilliant comedic performer who grew increasingly schmaltzy with mainstream success. This toothless remake features Russell Brand, the reigning king of cockney cheekiness — a comedian who was considered slightly dangerous just a few years ago but here displays all the hard edges of a marshmallow. Brand has diluted his own brand with each subsequent role. And a bit of free associative daffiness can be delightful on a talk show but not at feature length.
Brand mildly varies from his spoiled rocker role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek. The most entitled of trust-fund babies, Brand's Arthur Bach is content to squander his riches on things like authentic Batmobiles (Clooney-era), which he then crashes into the famed Wall Street Bull sculpture. His absurdly aloof mother (Geraldine Jones) isn't amused, and threatens to detach Arthur from the family's bottomless piggy bank if he doesn't clean up and marry a well-connected, money-grubbing man-eater, gamely played by Jennifer Garner. Instead, Arthur continues to spread cash around like a one-man trickle-down theory while hitting the bottle like it stole something.
His carousing and skirt-chasing takes a hit when he stumbles on a wide-eyed, quirkily magical, working-class hipster dream girl, played by indie champ Greta Gerwig (Greenberg). She lacks Liza Minnelli's sass from the original — she's appealing but doesn't spark with Brand, not her fault, since nobody in the movie does. Not even the great Helen Mirren can calibrate with Brand's clowning.
The original Arthur was the sole directing credit for cheese-ball sitcom writer Steve Gordon, and the update's helmer Jason Winer has an equally undistinguished résumé. This is drab hackwork. And it's not just because Charlie Sheen dwarfs Arthur's childish antics; no, Moore made alcoholism cutesy back when being a pathetic blackout drunk meant you were "high spirited." These days, when contrite, very public rehab stints are downright mandatory to a successful career path, much of the fun and mystery of a lush's life is gone. It's doubtful that an independent thinker like Arthur would embrace AA's cultish and dated theological dogma, but a potential money shortage is one hell of a motivator. Is it really fun to watch a billionaire waste his riches in a time of real economic hardship? Don't ask the creepy Donald Trump.