For such a diminutive man, Dudley Moore left some mighty big shoes to fill.
Perhaps nowhere were Moore’s figurative shoes ever bigger than in his portrayal of witty millionaire boozer Arthur Bach in 1981’s romantic comedy “Arthur.”
Now 30 years later, Warner Bros. Pictures has given the fondly-remembered Moore classic a 21st century update with British actor Russell Brand stepping into the title role.
As in the original, 2011’s “Arthur” tells the story of an irresponsible charmer who relies on his (practically) limitless fortune and the good sense of his lifelong nanny (played to lip-pursing perfection by Oscar winner Helen Mirren) to get through life and (unsuccessfully) try to keep him out of trouble.
Fun-, not to mention alcohol-loving to a fault, Arthur spends his days indulging in whatever whims occur to him, whether it’s outbidding himself on Abraham Lincoln’s clothing (which he then wears) to crashing the Batmobile into an uncomfortably anatomically correct bull statue.
When his unpredictable public image threatens the earnest reputation of the family foundation however, Arthur’s mother gives him an ultimatum — either marry the outwardly beautiful but inwardly unlovable Susan Johnson (played gamely by Jennifer Garner), an ambitious corporate exec who can keep him in check, or bid his billion-dollar inheritance (and the only way of life he knows) good-bye.
Further complicating Arthur’s situation is his falling in love with the free-spirited and leggy Naomi (Greta Grewig), a New York City tour guide and aspiring children’s book author, who — after first thinking Arthur to be homeless — falls for him in return, sharing his idealism and spontaneity, and seeing the potential within him that few others can.
Whether or not Arthur chooses true love over money is really never in question for anyone who’s seen the original, but the execution of a story that’s familiar to most still plays out with enough originality and humor to be enjoyable enough as if seeing it for the first time.
Comparisons of this version to Moore’s highly-regarded 1981 version are unavoidable, but whether Brand’s lanky, long-haired stove-pipe hat wearing Arthur is “better” than Moore’s elfish, perpetually giggling top-hat wearing Arthur is merely a matter of taste — both are essentially two similar but different flavors of the same childlike character.
Playing off a script by “Borat” scribe Peter Baynham, the jokes in “Arthur” come fast and often, the majority of which coming from Brand, whose cockney accent makes him sound like a wise-cracking if slightly buzzed Davy Jones (of “The Monkees” fame), innocent of guile and truly bewildered by people’s lack of appreciation for his lifestyle.
Aside from the toothy Brand, other cast stand-outs include the consummately British Mirren, stepping into the gender-flipped role of Hobson (now Arthur’s long-suffering nanny instead of his butler), originated by the brilliantly dry John Gielgud, and Nick Nolte as Susan’s father, Burt Johnson, growling every line as through he were a bulldog who’d mastered the human language, and so literally thick-skinned, he barely notices when Arthur accidentally shoots him with a nailgun.
The updated “Arthur” also benefits from a more generous budget — scenes of Arthur wooing the wide-eyed Naomi with rose petals, acrobats and Pez dispensers in an emptied-out Grand Central Station in New York City are as impressive visually as they are genuinely sweet, and Arthur’s magnetic bed is a fun bit of eye-candy.
Granted, it may be a challenge for audience members living through the recession to completely empathize with a “poor little rich boy,” but “Arthur” does deliver in enjoyable performances, quick-witted dialogue, and a handful of solid laughs.
After all, how can one not smile at a movie that contains the line, “Hobson, could you please detach the half-naked businesswoman from under my bed?” You don’t hear that every day.
“Arthur” is rated PG-13 for alcohol use throughout, some sexual content, profanity, some drug references, and gratuitous batsuit nipples.
“Arthur” is currently playing in Rogers County at the Claremore Cinema 8.