Movie-goers are getting a double-dose of whiny British bad boy Russell Brand. He voices young E.B. in “Hop” and tries to fill impish Dudley Moore’s top hat in the misbegotten remake of “Arthur.”
Immature Arthur Bach is a pampered, profligate playboy with oodles of money to spend on booze, babes and clothes. While his dignified nanny, Hobson (Helen Mirren), reprimands him occasionally, he recklessly zips through Manhattan with his simpleton chauffeur, Bitterman (Luis Guzman), in one of many cars, including the Batmobile and the “Back to the Future” DeLorean, and enjoys his Upper East Side penthouse with its $1.5 million bed and its own regulation boxing ring. That is – until Arthur’s coldly disapproving CEO mother, Vivienne (Geraldine James) threatens to deprive him of his $950 million inheritance if he doesn’t shape up and marry Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner), a calculating, domineering businesswoman with a formidable father (Nick Nolte). About the same time, Arthur falls in love with Naomi (Greta Gerwig), a naïve wannabe children’s book writer who leads unlicensed city sight-seeing tours and lives with her widower father near the elevated subway tracks in Queens. Inventive Arthur woos her by diverting commuter trains out of Grand Central Station for 45 minutes, strewing the lobby with rose petals and arranging a Pez dinner-for-two near the Information booth. Of course, when Susan finds out, Arthur’s not only in trouble but propelled to the altar. How can he live happily ever after?
The late Steve Gordon’s 1981 script was an unconventional screwball comedy, but screenwriter Peter Baynham (“Borat”) and director Jason Winter (TV’s “Modern Family”) clumsily steer it in a different direction, including casting Helen Mirren in the haughty ‘butler’ role for which John Gielgud won an Oscar. Problem is: carefree alcohol abuse and spending money don’t mix the way they used to. Think of the vintage TV show with Ralph Edwards intoning, “Charlie Sheen, This Is Your Life.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Arthur” is an unfunny, floundering 4. Somewhere between the moon and New York City, it lost its charm.