Flailing Brand sinks
This mortifyingly remake of the Dudley Moore hit falls flat on its face, though sadly not in slapstick fashion, writes Donald Clarke
TWO NAMES jump out at you from the credits to promise that this remake of a funny (if very scrappy) 1981 comedy might be headed in an interesting direction. No, we’re not talking about that overexposed Mötley Crüe impersonator. No, the notion of Dame Helen Mirren replacing John Gielgud as the hero’s factotum does not overly excite us.
The intriguing contributors are writer Peter Baynham, a frequent collaborator with Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris, and Greta Gerwig, the uncrowned queen of mumblecore. You might not warm to Gerwig’s class of heroic introversion, but placing her in a role previously taken by Liza Minnelli demonstrates a determination to investigate fresh territory. And, with I’m Alan Partridge and Brass Eye on his CV, Baynham is sure to inject subversive
currents into the piece.
No, no, no. Arthur is an unmitigated, sombrely unfunny catastrophe, from first sip to final, pre-catatonic vomit. This version of Arthur secures an unwanted place at the top (bottom?) of the chart detailing most misconceived remakes. My apologies, Mr Stallone: I didn’t mean to be so unkind about Get Carter. The Stepford Wives now seems positively fragrant, Nicole. Oh, we were only kidding about The Wicker Man, Nic. Join me for a bucket of gin while we dance unsteadily on the grave of Russell Brand’s movie career.
As you will be aware, the plot details the adventures of a boozy billionaire who, pressed to shape up by his unamused family, ends up unwillingly engaged to a snob with an excessive passion for big horses.
Unfortunately for his mentors, Arthur has recently met, and fallen hopelessly in love with, a spirited but poor girl. If he plumps for the proletarian, he will lose all his money. If he picks the rich monster, he will be saddled with a different, possibly more debilitating class of unhappiness.
Hang on a moment. Is this the first time anyone has noted the significance of Arthur’s loyal servant (Gielgud’s valet in the 1981 release, now Nanny Mirren) being named Hobson? It’s Hobson’s choice, you see. Consideration of such undoubted coincidences may, perhaps, keep you distracted during a clatter of mordant incidents that fail to coalesce into anything much like a plot.
In truth, the original was no classic, but it got by on a few gorgeously funny lines – “Usually, one must go to a bowling alley to meet a woman of your stature” – and three terrific central performances, or four if you count the late, great Barney Martin as Liza’s dad.
There are some good actors here, but all are hopelessly miscast. Gerwig has insufficient energy to launch a character that yearns for firecracker status. Jennifer Garner, who plays Susan, the posh fiancee, has a naturally likable personality, and she fails miserably to create a convincing monster. Mirren fares somewhat better, though her natural flintiness strips the character of any potential loveability. (One more coincidence: following Julie Taymor’s recent ghastly version of The Tempest, this is the second time Mirren has attempted a role once mastered on film by Gielgud.)
And then there’s Brand. It is only fair to acknowledge that this writer has never understood the appeal. To date, Brand’s main – possibly only – joke has involved using unsuitably long words where perfectly decent short ones would suffice. Deprived of the ability to improvise, Brand comes across as desperate, wooden and embarrassing. The wretched lines are delivered as if by a myopic man struggling with poorly written cue cards. Never sure what to do with his hands, Brand constantly reverts to wild gestures more suitable for a drowning bather some distance from rescuers.
Most surprising of all, Brand, now in recovery from a lexicon of addictions, doesn’t have any idea how to behave like a convincing drunk. Imagine watching Heston Blumenthal repeatedly burn toast and you will get some idea of the impression given. FOR FANS OF road races, the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy is where it’s at, a pitiless, gutsy arena where the planet’s pluckiest speed freaks come to do battle. For non-fans, it’s a rumble of motorbikes going round and around an island with suicidal haste, as interesting as sitting in front of a washing machine or goldfish bowl.
TT3D: Closer to the Edge, a thrilling documentary account of last spring’s meet, should delight both faithful and agnostic alike. Adorned with crisp 3D images and helmet-eye views of potentially fatal twists and turns, the film is certainly spectacular enough to make gimmicky, multi-angle HD broadcasts look flat and analogue.
TT3D also functions swimmingly well as a punch-the-air sports movie, replete with underdogs, family tragedies, old masters and young upstarts.
Irish audiences will likely recognise the Dunlop clan and young Michael Dunlop, who recently joined his father and uncle Joey in the record books. Michael, like the rest of the competitors, is aware of the inherent dangers: he only took up the bike when his father was killed in a 2008 crash on the North West 200.
Michael’s colleagues similarly pay tribute to fallen comrades. The TT is rarely run without fatalities. Sadly, at least one of the film’s contributing interviewees will not make it to the final reel.
Why do they do it? The enquiry is quickly put to bed. Maybe it’s the adrenalin and a burning need for speed, but these chaps (and the occasional lady rider) are not backing down. Returning champ John McGuinness has 15 wins under his belt, yet still packs up the wife and kids in a campervan and leaves for Manx country with a determined look on his face. He has stiff competition – youngsters Ian Hutchinson and Conor Cummins are coming up on the inside.
They’re all intriguing and impressively dedicated daredevils, but the undoubted star of the show is Guy Martin, the mouthy maverick from Lincolnshire who is an uncensored, unbridled force of nature. No rulebook is safe when he’s around. When he isn’t annoying track timekeepers or kidnapping his own bike, Martin can be trusted to provide hilarious commentary on, well, everything. “No crime in a wank, is there?” he chirps during a revealing monologue.
Bad in bed: Brand and Mirren