Review in a Hurry: As in Get Him to the Greek, Russell Brand excels when playing a wasted, spoiled brat, but falters when the movie decides it has to get moralistic and put an end to his (and our) party. There are moments here that are genuinely funnier than the 1981 Dudley Moore original, but the movie as a whole is less cohesive and overly melodramatic.
The Bigger Picture: Arthur (Brand) is an immature, drunken heir who likes to party, but unlike Paris Hilton he's actually likeable as well, frequently tossing handfuls of cash into the nearest crowd, or bailing everybody out of the drunk tank he finds himself in occasionally. But as our story begins, his mother (Geraldine James) has had enough, and threatens to cut him off from all family money unless he marries ruthless social climber Susan (Jennifer Garner), a man-eater who just happens to be one of Arthur's many exes.
Barely able to take a bath unassisted, Arthur agrees to the marriage, only to fall for a free-spirited, working-class woman named Naomi (Greta Gerwig) whom he encounters on the streets of New York. Now, aided only by his simple-minded servant Bitterman (Luis Guzman) and his sarcastic English nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren), he must figure out whether to go for the nice, pretty blonde, or keep $790 million and marry Jennifer Garner. We all should have such problems.
Coming at the beginning of a decade of excess, the original Arthur played it extremely casual with the booze, extravagance, and even personal dilemmas. You didn't need a blatant "drinking's bad, m'kay?" moment, because Dudley Moore was self-evidently playing a small man, literally and figuratively. The movie made clear that his jokes were often funny to nobody but himself, but that there was humanity there nonetheless. Likewise, having Liza Minelli as the true-love interest made things interesting—here was a man whose fiancée was a blonde bombshell, but he preferred a quirky-looking shoplifter because she was like nobody he would ever normally encounter in his world. Gerwig, though, isn't just a better actress than Garner; she's also arguably better looking.
This Arthur has been stripped of all male role models in the updating process—his father's now dead and his butler is a different gender—which makes for too-easy pop psychology. Mirren's Hobson is mightily entertaining, but given that we've already seen her swear and play against type in stuff like Red, she lacks the shock value John Gielgud had. Garner, who knows a thing or two about marrying a rich dork, has more to work with than Jill Eikenberry, but renders her Susan a more stereotypical villain.
Only Nick Nolte definitively improves upon his predecessor, as a suitably menacing potential father-in-law.
And rather than pick up hookers on street corners, this modern man-child is more in the Judd Apatow mode, drunkenly driving a Batmobile. Well and good...but seriously, if you can get anything you want, why pick the Joel Schumacher version?
This review may sound like a pan, but in truth, the movie is frequently funny, with Brand delivering many good zingers, and none of the cast slacking off. With story beats hit unenthusiastically, however, and emotional beats hammered home with awful songs (yes, worse than Christopher Cross), it's a remake that doesn't quite get it.
The 180—a Second Opinion: It's entertaining to watch what may be the most misguided product placement of all time: omnipresent close-ups of Maker's Mark whiskey, in a movie which advises that drinking, while kinda awesome, is best removed from one's life completely if happiness is to be attained.