MFR Rating: ★
Russell Brand is an actor. The man acts. Every expression must be uttered with the vigor and flamboyance of a man who is a true showman, at the top of his game. Like a man finally given his first role in an amateur dramatic production, Russell Brand must give his part everything. He must show the lights of Hollywood that his unique charisma and British quirkiness is something that they have craved, that can’t be replicated, that can’t be touched. Russell Brand is an irritant.
Arthur is a remake of the 1980s comedy and if ever a remake should be unmade, look no further. I’ve never seen the original so have no point of reference, but I refuse to believe it could be much poorer. The film begins with Brand’s rich, care-free, frivolous alter-ego, Arthur, in a Batmobile crash. When trying to escape the wreckage he is obstructed by the bronze testicles of a giant statue of a bull that his vehicle has collided into. This opening sequence provides a pretty decent little review for the remainder of the film. It’s just a pity nothing equally as substantial could have obstructed Brand.
Dame Helen Mirren. Dame Helen Mirren. What on earth possessed her to star alongside Brand in this mess of a comedy? Mirren plays Brand’s stern, very British nanny. Quite a lot of this film feels very British. Or at least Hollywood’s perceptions of what ‘very British’ should look like. There is no surprise that Brand might need a nanny, but there is considerable surprise at the level of the humour delivered by Mirren. Breastfeeding and Brand’s genitalia. Sorry, Arthur’s genitalia. Brand’s parody of his own public persona is almost unbearably confusing, especially for the less-than-subtle audience this film has been pitched to.
In terms of plot, well, Brand is given a choice by his equally stern, very British mother, to either marry a woman he doesn’t love and keep his millions and grotesquely lavish lifestyle, or marry a woman we are told he does love and lose his millions. Oh, what a fascinating Jane Austen-esque conundrum, I hear you shout. Subtle or emotional this is not. Hollywood cliché and sentiment as forced as Brand’s very British eccentricity, this most certainly is. So many times I was second-guessing the gag and so many times I was caught out. This should be a good thing, but not when the gag is far worse than what you expected, or many a time, just not there at all.
With Brand’s films Hop and Arthur, at one stage number one and number two at the US box office, it will be interesting to see just how long he can hold onto America’s apparent adoration of his very British quirkiness. But that dilemma is more interesting than anything offered by this Batmobile-crash of a movie. At one point Brand asks one of his fellow characters: “You can’t just say something incongruous or pithy?”. There is nothing the least bit pithy about Brand’s pompous inanity but it certainly does feel incongruous. How this film got written in this state and cast with such self-absorbed A-listers, I do not understand.
Arthur opens on 22 April in the UK and is already open in the US. Certificate 12A (UK). Running time: 110 mins.
Review by David Rank