Russell Brand: Does the bottoming out of 'Arthur' mean that he's not a movie star?


Image Credit: Barry Wetcher; Everett Collection

Now this has to be one of the oddest box office happenings since Mary Hart first beamed up her Miss America sparkle on Entertainment Tonight. I mean, really: When was the last time an actor starred in two movies that took the number one and number two slots — and he still looked like a loser? Hard to say, but that’s exactly what happened to the foppishly eccentric British cutup Russell Brand this week. He starred in a remake of Arthur, the drunken-rich-goofball romantic comedy that people still remember fondly from 30 years ago, when it featured the spit-take giggles of Dudley Moore. The movie — let’s not beat around the martini shaker — opened with a resounding thud. It’s not just that the $12.5 million it made was significantly below the $18 million that had been predicted. It’s that the $18 million “expectation” was itself a rather pathetic lowball figure, at least for a project that had the nostalgic pedigree, the built-in audience affection, and the ’80s-update curiosity factor that Arthur did — and one that was clearly geared to launch Brand into orbit as a major brand.

It didn’t happen. Of course, the movie that beat out Arthur for the top spot also starred Russell Brand — which you’d think would have cushioned the blow, except that the chart-topping picture in question was a piece of kiddie cardboard crappola called Hop, featuring Brand as the voice of a snarky slacker Easter Bunny who doesn’t get one really choice or witty line. In other words: It’s exactly the sort of movie that Eddie Murphy would sign on for when his stock in Hollywood is low — the kind that makes its star seem a little desperate even if the film is a hit. Brand as Arthur getting KO’d by Brand the kitschy-cute rock & roll bunny rabbit just added insult to opening-weekend injury.

The question is, why didn’t Arthur do better? Sure, the movie wasn’t very good, but lots of mediocre comedies have made piles of money. The box office performance of Arthur was a de facto referendum on how American moviegoers feel about Russell Brand, and for the moment, at least, their view does not appear to be encouraging. So what is it about him?

In my review of Arthur, I said that the problem with Brand is that “he doesn’t connect with anyone on screen,” and I certainly think that’s a major stumbling block for anyone who’s out to sustain a movie character — even a broad, outsize, foolish one — for 90 minutes. But I also wrote that I started out by thinking Brand was an inspired comic artist (back when I saw first him in Forgetting Sarah Marshall), and that I’ve liked him, and laughed at him, less and less each time I’ve seen him. I don’t think that’s just because of the narcissism he projects. I think what doesn’t wear well over time about Russell Brand is that he’s always the same. At every moment. In every fliply jaded line, every mock leer, every dissolute sprawl of his body. His whole personality is a routine. He’s like a member of Spinal Tap who’s convinced himself he’s a prince, and with that super-showy, consonant-swallowing accent of his (the sounds are Cockney but the lolling delivery is pure bored aristocracy), he never lets you forget — for a moment — his whole high/low, smart/dumb, innocent/devilish…thing. He belongs on a fatally hip TV commercial, because he never, ever stops being a sauntering, insinuating advertisement for himself.

I first noticed the creeping tiresomeness of the Brand Effect when I saw him host the Feb. 13 edition of Saturday Night Live, in what was easily the worst episode of that show in two years. When he first came out on stage, the producers simply let him do a monologue, which was an okay idea, only I couldn’t really tell what he was talking about. It was something about how tight his pants were, but he sounded more naggingly, parochially English than any English comedian I’d ever heard, and it didn’t translate. Then, as the show lurched on, I noticed something curious about Brand: Since he had to play a bunch of different characters, they had him in the usual array of wigs — but as soon as you took away those long flowy Jesus of SoHo locks of his, he was a little lost. Minus the cool hair, his high-cheekboned angularity can look a touch ghoulish, and he loses his vibe. Without it, in sketch after sketch, he bombed.

I still think that Brand has a rascally talent. In a funny way, I could see him doing a movie like Rush Hour, one that paired him with, you know, Seann William Scott or Jake Gyllenhaal, someone who could break up his rhythms. Brand will get another shot, and he deserves it. For right now, though, it seems increasingly clear that he’s going to have a hard time making it as a movie star if he insists on playing…Russell Brand. He may now have to do something more audacious than any of his jokes. He may have to become an actor.

So what’s your take on Russell Brand? Do you love him, hate him, are you getting tired of him, or do you want to see more of him? And why didn’t you go to see Arthur?

* * *

There’s one other reason that I think Arthur tanked that has precious little to do with its star. The movie is a comedy about a guy who drinks around the clock and makes a big, sloppy, flaunting joke of it, and while it certainly recognizes that Arthur has a problem, I think audiences are less comfortable with a drunk as “harmless” hero than they were 30 years ago. In the original, Dudley Moore very lightly sketched in Arthur’s man-child pathology, with the bottle as his richie-rich version of mommy’s milk. But Moore, a classically trained farceur, also squeezed plenty of old-fashioned Whee! Look at me! I’m sloshed! jokes out of Arthur’s predicament. The movie had one foot in the world of guiltless imbibing, one in the emerging 12-step era. The new Arthur makes drinking seem, if anything, a little less of a big deal, because Brand plays Arthur as a blitzed idiot even when he’s not drunk. Nevertheless, he isn’t much of a role model, and these days that can shove a movie character right to the margins.

Follow Owen on Twitter: @OwenGleiberman

Comments (168 total) Add your comment
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  • Peter

    I’m calling it from now, Russel Brand is the new Peter Sellers.
    Now all we need is a ‘Dr.Strangelove’ remake and Brand would NAIL it!

    • Angie

      Brand has the same problem that Michael Cera has: Every film he makes, he plays the same darn character, whose name is truly Russell Brand/Michael Cera. And the worst part is that one character is an annoying amalgam of annoying annoyances.

      • Lucy

        agreed!!! I’d see Hop because I wouldn’t have to see his ugly mug, but no desire whatsoever, even dvd, to see the Arthur remake

      • Sarah O

        I think you’ve got it wrong. I didn’t see iArthur because I’m sick of remakes when the original was very good. I didn’t see any of Steve Martin’s Pink Panther movies either. Hollywood needs to come up with original movies, not the same old movies tarted up with shiny new ribbon!

      • Kieran

        @Sarah O.: I am a big Steve Martin fan, but I have no desire to see “The Pink Panther” remakes. For me, Inspector Clouseau belongs to Peter Sellers. I realize that action characters are often recast (James Bond, Jack Ryan, etc.), but for some reason, comedy feels more personal. I never want to see a remake of “The Jerk” because I can only see Steve Martin playing Navin. I actually like Russell Brand & Helen Miren, but for me, “Arthur” belongs to Dudley & Sir John.

      • Linda

        This movie has bombed harder than Hell’s Gate.

    • Le HIROSHI

      Owen, thanks for a good read; I do enjoy it while intentionally listening to BEST THAT YOU CAN DO.

      – –

      To begin with, speaking for myself, Russell Brand has continually been relatively very disappointing as “an actor.” Even as a music awards host, he was, to me, VERY annoying. To me, he seems always to have failed — quoting yours — “to connect.”

      – –

      However, your Rush Hour buddy flick-related thought is interesting.

      – –

      As for “ARTHUR,” it might be another classic case of the wrong remake for the wrong era, not to mention miscasting, Brand in particular; I have to see it myself to believe in either way.

      – –

      But the original version, to me*, is a classic case of popcorn flick turning out so well and beyond expectation: a great cast, good chemistry among the main characters, . . . you name it, . . . and even for something that we, now. . .adays, might take it for granted. READING: THE ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK. Today, for some reason, you just can no longer produce that kind of beautiful and heartfelt music that goes SO WELL with the movie itself. (*I’m still in my prime.)

      – –

      Just saying.

      – –

      PS: @Peter, that remains to be seen.

      • to Owen

        Owen, you asked why the movie didn’t do any better… I’m not interested in watching some rich guy with no responsibilities.

      • Kieran

        @to Owen: I don’t know about the remake, but in the original, Arthur gives up his irresponsible behavior to take care of Hobson when he gets sick.

    • MikeyNYC

      Are you on drugs? Russel Brand is a two-bit hack who is occasionally funny and that is usually because of his physical comedy, not what comes out of his mouth. “Arthur” should have NEVER been remade – what a pile of crap! No one could ever hope to compare to either Dudley Moore OR John Geilgud, who won on Oscar for his role! Their corpses would have brought more life into the film than the two live leads did in this bomb!

      • Terry Wise

        DITTO! The man is not funny. Brand is a 30 second commercial, you do not give him a top spot, It would be like making Tom Arnold the leading man, “You do not do it!”

      • Holden Magroyne

        Russell Brand is funny, but not sure the material was right. The original Arthur sucked, and I will never ses the remake because of how bad the original failed. The only thing I like Moore in was Foul Play and that was because his role was brief. Russell Brand is funny and intelligent, but must find the right vehicle.

    • Different Peter

      I can’t believe anyone who appreciates Strangelove would be calling for a remake of it.

      • DFSF


    • nick

      Owen, arthur didn’t fail bc of Brand. it was an insipid/melodramatic take on what should’ve been a more subversive character. they watered down russel brand to be likable. he is more punk than that. as to SNL: he was great in the “king’s speech” skit–very off the wall. and also in the talk-show skit where he played the lothario. he’s not a boring leading melodramatic man and he shouldn’t try to be.

    • Dustin Ingle

      That would be GREAT !

    • sakara

      russel brand is the new tiny tim—they look alike.

    • jb

      I sincerely hope that was NOT a serious comparison. Sellers was a comic genius. Brand is a one note comic that is entertaining.

    • kellybelly

      I saw Arthur. And I want my money back. It definitely had some funny moments, and the actors were good, but it was a really shallow story. The girlfriend – played by Greta Gerwig – had absolutely zero chemistry with Russell. So their relationship seemed forced. And Greta was just bland. I know I was young the last time I saw Arthur on TV, but I remember the chemistry and the deeper plot you got with the girlfriend character and her dad.
      This new Arthur, spent too much time on Arthur’s antics, rather then providing a full story arc, with characters with any depth or direction or interest.

    • Rush

      Russell Brand is mostly famous for being Katy Perry’s husband.

    • Shameless

      Brand manages to be very funny doing voices. People are tired of bad remakes; there have been so many. A good remake is a rarity these days. Brand also never varies his look; he needs to become the characters, not force the characters to become Russell Brand; otherwise he’s just himself in every pic he does.

  • Matt

    The movie had ‘bomb’ written over it as soon as it went into production. Brand undoubtedly has a star quality, but it was way too much, way too soon for an American audience: he needed to pay his dues in a lot more supporting roles building up goodwill before headlining a movie…

    • Kieran

      Agreed. Remaking “Arthur” was a mistake from the get-go. It would never have measured up to the original no matter who starred in it.

      • dcet30

        I had no intention of seeing this “remake.” I am starting to get offended by them honestly.Arthur was a wonderful movie that did not need improvement. Maybe audiences are starting to tire of being taken for granted by arrogant film makers who think they can put their own spin on a movie that so many people have fond memories.

    • DFSF

      I think the answer is that some humor simply doesn’t translate across the pond. For every Monty Python and Ab Fab there are dozens of Brands and Gervaises that fall by the wayside. It’s looking like many Americans share my resentment at having these pre-packaged media entities shoved down our throats and being told that we love them. The limits of PR companies to construct and ramrod marginal talents into mass celebrities are beginning to show.

      • Darin

        That may be true for Rowan Atkinson as well. He’s huge in the U.K., but only has a cult following in the States.

      • yesyousuck

        When did Gervais “fall by the wayside” in the US? Gervais is hardly a PR talent given his several successful TV shows in the US with even his old podcasts being successfully televised. Not sure why this translates to “marginal” and why you equate with Brand. And when was Ab Fab hugely popular in the US?

  • AK

    How many moviegoers in Russell Brand’s target audience (13-25 year-old men) have ever even heard of “Arthur,” much less feel any sense of nostalgia toward it. This was the wrong movie aimed at the wrong crowd; there was no way it wasn’t going to be a flop.

    • Gojan

      I was also surprised that Arthur and Your Highness both opened the same weekend. They both seemed to cater to the same audience (ie: men in their late teens/twenties) and both suffered as a result.

      I think it’s too early to make a definitive statement on Brand’s career. I don’t mind the guy, but this movie looked like a stinker, regardless of who was in the lead.

    • Kim

      Good point – hell, I’m almost 40 and I barely remember it. It was rated R, so it wasn’t high on my list when I was 10 years old. I think I saw it when it eventually came out on video, but even then it didn’t leave much of an impression.

  • Dave

    I can’t speak for everyone else, but I didn’t see Arthur simply because it didn’t look like a good movie from the trailers. I like Russell Brand. I liked him in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and in Get Him to the Greek. I think he’s funny. But Arthur just looked dumb. No star would have gotten me to see it. Movie tickets are too expensive these days to waste money on what you know ahead of time will be a bad movie. I save my money for movies that at least look promising.

    • me

      I saw both Hop and Arthur this weekend…and I enjoyed them both. This version of Arthur wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny…it was more sad and poignant in a way. And it wasn’t just Brand…it was all the characters. That, to me, is a function of the writing and directing and not necessarily of the acting.

    • Snsetblaze

      I have to agree with this comment – movie tickets are just too expensive to choose a mediocre movie and not a top-notch one. If I had not been ill this weekend, I would have chosen Hanna which looked interesting.

  • BobS

    Definitely tired of Russell Brand! Repetitive to say the least! Of course that hasn’t seemed to hamper the careers of Will Ferrell or Kristin Wig on SNL. Dump the wigs and you have simple minded one dimensional and repetitive characters that simply numb the mind with their own sense of being personally witty and amusing!

    • B

      Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert are probably more your cup of “intellectual” tea. And you probably looooove Bill Maher.

      • DFSF

        And you undoubtedly must be desolate at the loss of Chris Matthews.

      • Jason C.

        You say that like Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert are bad, and I would not lump Bill Maher in with them!

  • LOL

    “Arthur” didn’t have one single laugh in any trailer I saw. It all sounded good in theory. How could Brand and Mirren go wrong? Apparently it did. Maybe he’s just a one-note guy. He was still “new” in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Now that note is played out.

    • AlyssaG

      I agree– the trailer was terrible. I think he is a one-note guy, but there are lots of one-note comedians. I don’t see that as an issue if the writing is good. He worked in Forgetting Sarah Marshall because it’s a well written comedy.

  • BobS

    Additionallly, youo can see the difference between the success of the Dudley Moore interpretation and the Russel Brand interpretation from the photos used with this article. In the Dudley Moore shot he seems to be looking at someone or something and truy enjoying it for what it is. Brand may play a bumbling aristocrat, but an aristocrat nontheless. His photo doesn’t not seem to be connecting with anything or anyone. Rather more looking above whatever is in his view. I don’t think Americans, as a whole, like that.

  • Sven

    Of course he is not a movie star. Hop did not succeed because of him. It was the story, and his voice work was not anything a real voice artist could not have done (and almost certainly better).

    • Exactly

      He’s getting too much credit for “Hop”. Kids, the target demo of that movie, probably don’t know who Brand even is. They went because of the cute bunny, and the storyline. Not because of Brand’s voice, which could have been done by any actor who was in need of a paycheque.

  • deedeedragons

    I think the question being posed is just plain stupid, there are plenty of other actors/comedians who have done much worse at the box-office.

  • JoAnn

    Hey Owen…I love Russell Brand, he’s charming, adorable and very attractive to the female species…you appear to be very jealous of the man…Isn’t it time for you to log on for your next WOW session…

    • whatevs

      Very attractive to the female species? Ugh, speak for yourself. That man grates on my nerves like nobody else.

    • LOL

      Very attractive? Ha. Good one.
      Trust me, I don’t have very high or lofty standards, but even *I* wouldn’t give him a second look. He’s pretty fug.

    • Desmond’s constant

      Very attractive? Uh, no. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he looks like the Rocky Dennis character in ‘Mask’.

    • tvgirl48

      Yeah, count me out too. I want to take a shower just looking at the guy. Ick.

      • Kim

        He’s in no way attractive! Speaking for myself.

      • ks

        I agree, he gives me the creeps and I too want to shower after looking at him, what does Katy see in him?

      • “What does Katy see in him?’

        Maybe-just maybe–he’s a nice guy?

      • daisy

        atttractive!??? hahaha um not even with beer goggles on honey.

    • Susan

      Sorry, but he’s not only not attractive, he’s got that creepy serial killer look to him. While it’s nice that he’s sober now, he still looks like an addict. But that’s not his biggest problem. Frankly, an actor doesn’t have to be handsome to be a compelling presence on screen. But Brand isn’t compelling to watch either. He’s just a big ball of blank.

    • rocknmovies

      I’m a woman and I don’t find him attractive at all. Plus he is vulgar.

    • janet

      Are you and Katie Perry related? Russell Brand is not eye candy, he’s and eyesore, and totally talentless too. If he’s such a great performer, let him perform in his own country and not come here to perform his dog tricks to make money off the stupid American public that even tolerates the extremely untalented. Dudley Moore he wil NEVER NEVER be. Any women that can even see out of just one eye, can see that the man is two paws short of being an absolute “DOG” and he’s actually an insult to dogs.

  • Bluebonnetbelle

    I saw the movie last night and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. But the conversation afterwards was telling. My sister and I were discussing how much we dislike Russell Brand but can’t stop watching him. I think that he came on so strong when he hosted that MTV awards show a couple of years ago that it turned off a great deal of people and he has been fighting to be liked ever since.
    I think some of the issues with Arthur lies with girls. The indie love interest was kinda blah and it was difficult to see Jen Garner be so unlikable.

  • UGH

    Russell Brand = Yahoo Serious

  • tipsy

    Arthur opend against another comedy (Your Highness) so they split audience. I don`t think any of them would have been a breakout but they did lose viewership to each other.

    There are only 2-3 real movie stars, as in opening power. Brand isn`t one of them nor is 97-98% of Hollywood.

  • James

    I don’t care one way or another about Brand, but since Your Highness did even worse, could you ask the same question about Portman and Franco, or because other people have difficulty opening a film on their own–Clooney, Anniston, Damon, are not movie stars since all of them have some difficulty being leads and opening a movie? Lots of folks have successes and failures, but that question is not asked about them.

    • Gojan

      Good point. I was wondering the same thing.

      I think there are very few movie “stars” these days, at least ones that aren’t holdovers from the 80s and 90s (ie: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Tome Cruise (pre-2005!), etc.).

      It’s a whole different ball game now.

    • Gina

      Once you’ve opened ONE movie, you get a little more credit. Russell Brand has yet to do that. I agree that there are few reliably bankable stars anymore, and those who are — it’s not so much that people adore them as that they choose projects well.

      For the record, I think Russell Brand is a funny comedian, but being a comedian and being an actor are two different things. Many comics can make the transition beautifully, but some can’t. Russell Brand may be in the second category.

      • Latka

        One could argue Brand “opened” Get Him to the Greek. Sure, it wasn’t a blockbuster, but it was a sleeper hit over the summer of 2010, and definitely made a tidy profit.

    • bob

      OG seems to have an ax to grind. I respect his reviews but this article is really just him bashing an actor he doesn’t like.

  • jared

    I’m confused, Gleiberman. You basically say you despise the guy, then say he deserves another chance to make another crappy film, maybe with Jake Gyllanhaal? Huh? If he’s so bad, let’s leave him in the dirt.

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