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Arthur

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Russell Brand in 'Arthur'
> Interview: Russell Brand

Stateside, Russell Brand has crashed and burned with his first star vehicle, a remake of the 1981 classic Arthur. But it's by no means an awful film. In fact, there are more laughs than you'd find in the average Hollywood rom-com. The problem is that our soliloquising Cockney comic as the "world's only loveable billionaire" (as the poster has it) seems too much like a child stamping his feet, demanding that love. Dudley Moore took a more laidback approach, having fun for fun's sake rather than showing off about it. It's not entirely Brand's fault though as the filmmakers choose to indulge his inner child.

Making the personality defect even more pronounced is the casting of a woman as Arthur's right-hand 'man' Hobson (it was an Oscar-winning role for the late John Gielgud). Helen Mirren is matronly in her interpretation with an underlying tenderness that more obviously shines through, perhaps because of her gender. That's all very well, ma'am, but the mere fact that she is employed as Arthur's nanny changes the dynamic in an unsettling way. It verges on the creepy, especially when she jokes about breastfeeding Arthur to repel the latest money-grabbing blonde in his magnetically floating bed. Apparently, this is all business as usual chez Arthur.

Brand does himself few favours in this regard, adopting a higher, squeakier than usual voice and, in one sequence, dressing up like a fruit pastille to offer little children sweets. It's a wonder he doesn't have Neverland in his back garden... Hobson might be on the phone to social services, except that Arthur's sudden interest in working at a sweet shop is the result of falling for illegal tour guide and struggling kids' writer Naomi. In this role, Greta Gerwig is just as earthily charming as she was in Greenberg, but Hobson takes a while warming up to her. With Arthur's mother Vivienne (Geraldine James) threatening to cut him off, she's worried about his future.

The action strays into sitcom territory as Vivienne arranges for Arthur's marriage to steely businesswoman Susan (Jennifer Garner) in an attempt to settle him and soothe the nerves of their company's investors. Unfortunately, Garner is reduced to a pantomime villain as the social-climbing fiancée, complete with what Arthur calls a "clown mouth". She is indeed frightening to watch. Her wild-eyed attempt at seduction is especially cringe-worthy, yet never funny enough to warrant the degradation. And though it sounds like a great idea, the casting of Nick Nolte as her father Burt - an even crazier construction magnate - doesn't pay off as it should.

Undoubtedly, Brand is a gifted comedian and his natural instinct for what's funny occasionally comes through. He improvises witty asides, adding colour to otherwise drab dialogue, but he's clearly reining it in for the 12 certificate (and one assumes, Middle America). He doesn't need to be foul-mouthed to be funny, but he goes too far the other way, playing up to the audience with teary, baby brown eyes expecting that this will endear him after falling about drunk and trampling on Susan's feelings. A last melodramatic twist forces Arthur to see the error of his ways, but again, it's screamingly unsubtle. With a former sitcom helmer, Jason Winer, making his feature debut, that's perhaps not surprising. Brand surely needs a stronger guiding hand.


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