Beware! The multiplex has officially become a no-fly zone for laughs. Hum “Taps” while I call out recent comedy screw-ups: Just Go With It, No Strings Attached, Hall Pass, Take Me Home Tonight, From Prada to Nada and Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son.
The epidemic continues with the limp-dick remake of 1981’s Arthur, starring Russell Brand in the happy-drunk role indelibly created by Dudley Moore. Sounds promising, but it ends in disaster. Brand is a Brit firecracker, well suited to playing Arthur Bach, a Manhattan playboy who dulls his lack of purpose with booze. But the pale-imitation script by Peter Baynham (Borat) never lets him rip. Helen Mirren is also trapped. As Hobson, Arthur’s nanny, Dame Helen is meant to fill in for Sir John Gielgud, who won an Oscar as Arthur’s acidly funny butler. I’m not feeling awards this time.
In the age of rehab, self-destructive celebs (from Lohan to Sheen) inspire more pity than smiles. Brand, himself a recovering alcoholic, works strenuously to make us root for Arthur’s redemption by rejecting marriage to grasping Susan (Jennifer Garner) in favor of true love with sweet Naomi (a lovely, low-key Greta Gerwig). And Mirren constantly reminds us (sniff sniff) that Arthur is still an unloved child.
That dog won’t hunt. Remakes seldom do. Director Jason Winer (TV’s Modern Family), in his feature debut, can’t find the tonal balance that Steve Gordon did in the original. Gordon, who died shortly after the first Arthur, never had to see the luckless 1988 sequel that made his beloved characters seem like strangers. The new Arthur, insipid when it should be infectious, leaves the same deadly impression.