5 Reasons Why Russell Brand's 'Arthur' Flopped

1:01 AM PST 04/12/2011 by Tim Appelo
Warner Bros.

The comedian's trumpeted debut as a leading man earned only $12.2 million, behind the Brand-voiced toon "Hop" and "Hanna," starring teen shooting star Saoirse Ronan.

"You can't reheat a souffle," as Paul McCartney used to say when people begged for a Beatles comeback. But Hollywood refuses to believe you can't re-milk a hit movie, so rich ex-heroin/crack/alcohol addict Russell Brand was cast in Dudley Moore's rich, lovable drunk role in 2011's remake of 1981's Arthur.

The film's opening this weekend made the Hindenburg look like a flaming souffle. Brand's trumpeted debut as a leading man earned $12.2 million, losing to the Russell Brand-voiced toon Hop and Hanna, starring teen shooting star Saoirse Ronan. "Moviegoers would rather hear Russell Brand than see him," chortled Reuters. "A career-killing performance," prophesied critic David Edelstein. "Those with any memory of 1981's Arthur will be severely disappointed," warned THR's Kirk Honeycutt. "In the end, it isn't so much that the New Arthur isn't the Old Arthur. Rather it's the anti-Arthur." Ouch!

The original Arthur earned, in current box-office dollars, over 2,131 percent more than the Russell Brand version has (though the new one will earn at least a few more dollars despite the radioactive word of mouth).

What went wrong? Here are the top explanations:

1. Drunks aren't funny anymore. Made before Mothers Against Drunk Driving (and Lindsay Lohan's driving) made headlines, the first Arthur was "the product of a less anxious age," writes The New York Times' A.O. Scott. Despite adding a scene sending Arthur to AA to clean up, you can't turn the clock back and make alcoholism innocent after it's been proven guilty in the national imagination.

2. Weird, acerbic Russell Brand is not Cuddly Dudley Moore. He's more like the guy Moore based the Arthur character on, his tall, thin, patrician comedy partner Peter Cook. In real life, Cook seduced the nurse treating him for alcoholism, then died at 57. But Moore, who loved Cook more than any woman (even though Cook also seduced Moore's fiancee), sentimentalized him with brilliant success. "Dudley Moore's warmth and physicality both made you want to embrace him," critic Chris Willman tells THR. "Brand's brittleness and stature are both the opposite of Moore. The accent and ability to believe he could be involved in substance abuse probably weren't two good enough reasons to think he could follow in those footsteps." As Tom Shone notes, Brand admits he's no Dudley Moore in his autobiography, My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs and Standup:  "'I've always favored Peter Cook over lovely Dudley Moore,' he writes, with that unerring instinct addicts have for sniffing one another out."

3. Pot is the new funny drug. Today, as casting director Melissa Braun told THR regarding the plight of Arthur, ""It's much easier to make fun and laugh at people getting high than getting drunk. There's a real view out there that alcohol is more dangerous than smoking a joint." On the other hand, the new stoner comedy Your Highness and Arthur have the same dismal rating on Rotten Tomatoes: 25%.

4. Russell Brand is a character actor with one character -- and not a starring character. "He was great as a foil in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek, says Willman, "but he was unredeemed in the first one, and the second one only warmed him up a little bit and left the real redemption to Jonah Hill. With the persona he's built, it just seems extremely unlikely he can carry a movie by himself, because not that many people want to see him be an ass for 90 minutes, but probably even fewer want to see him be an ass who learns valuable moral lessons.

"Plus, his whole comic persona is built on being deadpan and emotionless, even as he spits out the zingers, to the point of almost coming off like an irreverent automaton. Deadpan is okay for standup comedy but doesn't really lend itself to romantic lead. He needs to stick with being the comic antagonist--and outside of his fellow countryman's Borat, it's hard to think of many recent comedies where an antagonist has pulled off an entire film. I don't think the literally warm-and-fuzzy aspects of being a rabbit have rubbed off on his non-animated persona."

"Does the bottoming out of Arthur mean that he's not a movie star?" asked swiftly recovering Brand fan Owen Gleiberman, who argues persuasively that he pretty much isn't. 

5. Arthur is simply a movie that deserves to die -- but Russell Brand is a star who deserves another chance. Don't despair, diehard Brand fans. Put your faith in the upcoming Rock of Ages, with Tom Cruise, Amy Adams -- and Russell Brand as a British rock star. The role he was born to play!

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