Russell Brand (“Hop”) will challenge himself someday and play a character that isn’t completely based on him. He’ll keep making us laugh for a few more years, but will eventually play a burned-out, depressed musician in a film that tries to imitate “Crazy Heart” or “Walk The Line.” He’ll play a person with a disability or a debilitating disease and perhaps, when he does, we’ll note how convincingly he portrayed a character wounded by something too big for him to party his way out of. We’ll suddenly regard his earlier films as preludes to a career he has finally decided to take seriously.

Arthur

At Quality 16 and Rave
Warner Bros.

Until then, there’s “Arthur.”

The film’s tagline is, “No work. All play.” And that’s the gospel that Brand’s character Arthur Bach — the heir to a billion-dollar media fortune — preaches. He’s a hard-partying, alcoholic rich kid who flies around New York City squandering his wealth without any regard for the consequences. But, unexpectedly, he doesn’t spend it all on himself. He acts like somewhat of a “Robin Hood” toward total strangers, literally throwing money up in the air at a gas station at one point and declaring, “The recession is over!”

He’s not actually a faux-superhero, as the trailers for “Arthur” might lead us to believe. He’s an heir with a conscience, a man with unlimited means who has come to a point where he is forced by his domineering mother to choose between living the same affluent life he’s always lived, or to cut himself off from the family fortune and try his hand at being a normal person.

Because it’s really an average story, Arthur’s choice to either leave or remain on the family payroll is complicated by a lower-middle-class woman he meets and falls in love with in Grand Central station. His decision thus becomes one between money and true love.

While the plot may be predictable, it stays funny, and, more surprisingly, it turns pretty dark. The same kind of “What happened to the stupid humor?” feeling that came across people watching “Click” or “Funny People” rears its head for the last 40 minutes of “Arthur.” The audience keeps laughing, but the tone and direction of those laughs changes as the mood surrounding Arthur’s life becomes more complex.

This film may begin as a cheesy, shallow romantic comedy, but it becomes an examination of a tragically inaccessible form of loneliness. It’s hard for us to sympathize with Arthur and his problems because he’s so rich, but that’s just the problem — no one in his life can relate to him. He’s forced to live an outrageously and comically simple life because, when pressed, no one in believes he has real problems.

Arthur is a goofy, obnoxious man-boy who we meet as he grows sick of laughing his way through a meaningless existence. He’s like a chauvinistic, slovenly and British “Little Mermaid.” All he wants is to be treated like a normal person, but, like Russell Brand, he refuses to mature because of how charming people find him as a rich screw-up.

But he can’t be funny forever. Hopefully Brand knows this, and is setting us all up for a career transformation that finally reveals the talent he’s rumored to have. Until then we’ll keep laughing, but when the laughs die and we start to wonder what’s next for him, we can only hope Brand has enough substance to clear his throat and say something starting with the words, “But seriously … ”

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