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“Arthur,” Reviewed

“Arthur,” Reviewed (photo)

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Want to know the difference between the two versions of “Arthur?” Just compare their first scenes. The 1981 original introduced Dudley Moore’s Arthur Bach cruising for hookers. The 2011 remake has Russell Brand’s Arthur dress up as Batman and crash an authentic “Batman Forever” Batmobile into Charging Bull and make fun of its testicles. I’m not a huge fan of the original “Arthur,” but as a film about a drunken, whoremongering hero, at least it took some chances. Moore’s Arthur was a lecherous sleaze. Brand’s Arthur is a cutesy cartoon goof.

So is his movie. Everything messy and ugly (and therefore interesting) about the old Arthur has been smoothed out in this shrewdly calculated remake. With those hints of darkness gone, Arthur becomes an overgrown boy with his toys, a lost innocent looking for the love and respect he’s never gotten from his distant mother. He doesn’t need a drink; he needs a hug. The changes make Arthur the character way more likable and “Arthur” the movie way less likable.

Here’s why. In both films we watch Arthur get drunk and act out, while his butler or nanny Hobson (John Gielgud in 1981, Helen Mirren in 2011) dryly mocks his antics. Moore’s Arthur was an asshole, so it was fun to watch him get put in his place. Brand’s Arthur is a sweeter soul, so Hobson’s insults come off as more mean-spirited. Moore’s Arthur drinks because he’s bored; Brand’s, although he doesn’t drink or act drunk nearly as often, is much more clearly an addict. Maybe it’s wasn’t exactly P.C. to have an impenitent lush as a protagonist, but it was certainly a whole lot edgier. This “Arthur” feels aimed at families and kids, right down to the title character’s love of children’s books.

Part of the problem may be Brand himself. His charm in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” was rooted in the effortlessness of his performance. In “Arthur” he tries really hard to be funny, manically tossing out pratfall after dirty joke after crazy voice. A strained Russell Brand is not a funny Russell Brand, especially when he’s playing a guy like Arthur who’s three sheets to the wind and should probably be a bit more chill.

As before, Arthur’s story entails his efforts to resist an arranged marriage that will be financially advantageous for his wealthy family. Since refusing his assigned mate would mean forfeiting hundreds of millions of dollars, he’s initially willing to go along. But when he happens to meet an unlicensed New York City tour guide named Naomi (Greta Gerwig) he has to decide whether he wants to spend the rest of his life with his money or his true love.

Despite the dangerous levels of quirk foisted upon her by the screenplay — she couldn’t be a licensed tour guide? — Gerwig provides an endearing note of cutesiness as Naomi. And she has some nice chemistry with Brand, who only seems to relax when he’s on screen with her. Together they share what’s easily this “Arthur”‘s best scene: a truly romantic first date inside an empty Grand Central Station. I’m not sure how a woman who’s supposedly as poor as Naomi affords such an expensive looking wardrobe, but whatever.

Her opposite number is Jennifer Garner, who narrowly beats Luis Guzmán for the title of Actor Whose Presence in This Movie Depresses Me The Most. As Susan, the woman Arthur’s mother has chosen for him, all she has to play is pure, comic book super-villain-level evil. There’s no suspense over Arthur and Susan’s relationship; of course he doesn’t want to marry a woman who treats their marriage like a hostile takeover. As anyone who’s ever watched “Alias” can tell you, Garner is capable of so much more than this. (For the record Guzmán plays Arthur’s chauffeur and he, too, deserves a lot better.) For her part, Mirren doesn’t add much to the role of Hobson that wasn’t already there in John Gielgud’s Oscar-winning performance, but at least she looks like she’s having some fun with the material.

One curiosity of the new “Arthur” is the expanded role of women in its title character’s life. In the original movie, Arthur’s marriage was arranged by his dad, and his faithful manservant was, well, a man. Now Arthur’s fate is determined by an unfeeling mother and the manipulative Susan, not to mention a gender-flipped Hobson. Suddenly Arthur has become this pure beacon of goodness trying to break free of the conniving, money-grubbing women who control his life. Which is a little strange.

Like I said, I’m no “Arthur” fanatic, so the changes made by director Jason Winer and writer Peter Baynham to Steve Gordon’s version don’t bug me as a fan; they bug me as a moviegoer. Aside from some screwy gender politics, the new “Arthur” is bland and tired. Without Gordon’s unconventional details, the material has aged as well as an uncorked bottle of champagne.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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