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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Arthur’s’ Charm Dissipated in ‘Arthur 2'

Times Film Critic

The excruciating “Arthur 2 on the Rocks” (citywide) should come with a surgeon general’s warning: “This sort of stupidity may sap your will to live or to watch movies ever again.”

The most rotten thing about it, however, is that it obliterates any hint of the real “Arthur’s” warmth or charm or wonderfully acid wit. If you never saw the Arthur of Beloved Memory, the creation of writer-director Steve Gordon, you might guess that those of us who did love it back in 1981 were a few bricks short of a load.

Think of this one as the faux Arthur. Clunkingly directed by Bud Yorkin from a screenplay by Andy Breckman (“Moving”), it reprises the irrepressible Arthur Bach (Dudley Moore), still richer than Donald Trump’s wildest dreams, and his now-wife Linda (Liza Minnelli), still besotted with him, although this time it’s impossible to know why.

Arthur, the merry prankster, is still alcoholic, unreliable and without a job, hobby or charitable pursuit. His charm as a human being, much less as a husband, has evaporated. Not to Linda, though. “Are you cute !” she marvels, roughly every quarter-hour. From his bath, Arthur has only to cackle, “My snake was very bad. I had to put him underwater for an hour and a half” to send her into paroxysms.

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Reason enough to think they belong together, I suppose. But inexplicably, he’s still catnip to Susan, the heiress he jilted, though only the genie in Arthur’s bottle could tell you why. (Originally played by Jill Eikenberry, Susan is now Cynthia Sikes, who seems to have been cloned from an 8x10 Anne Archer glossy.)

Back for the merest of moments is John Gielgud, this time as Arthur’s guardian angel, with lines that make you cringe for him. Stephen Elliott again plays Susan’s rich, fulminating father, and Arthur still has Geraldine Fitzgerald as his handsome billionaire grandmother.

Elliott has been directed so that his range begins somewhere over the top, and Fitzgerald has been sold down the river. She’s been willed one of those roles that should have been given a decent burial along with Ruth Gordon: the fey, sex-mad old party who talks dirty. (Indecently rich, her private aerobics workout consists of keeping a close watch as a muscled young instructor does his pelvic thrusts there on her Aubusson.)

The movie’s fun comes as the Bachs lose all their money and what jobs Arthur can find, go to live in a roach hotel and can’t have children. At this point, Susan comes to gloat over her rival: “ I’m as fertile as the Napa Valley.” Breckman and Yorkin seem to find nothing distasteful about this line, since by the film’s close, Susan is supposedly rehabilitated in our eyes as a swell kid.

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The Bachs’ silver lining is Kathy Bates (superb on stage as “ ‘night, Mother’s” young suicide) as head of an adoption agency who assures them that, job or no job, alcoholic or not, to adopt, “All you need is two mature people.” As a judge of character, she should lose her license tomorrow.

If limp, offensive humor and loony character motivation weren’t enough, Yorkin’s direction is alternately awkward and show-offy. Of all the technical credits, Gene Callahan’s production design is the jewel of the piece. But tucked in among his splendid designs for mansions and/or poverty-level walk-ups, he’s included a stair-saver chair-elevator for the Bachs’ landlord Jack Gilford that inadvertently comes to stand for the movie itself. You think this creaky, unfunny, labored mechanism is never going to get where it’s going, either.

‘ARTHUR 2 ON THE ROCKS’

A Warner Bros. presentation of a Havlin-Robert Shapiro Production. Executive producer Dudley Moore. Producer Shapiro. Director Bud Yorkin. Screenplay Andy Breckman, based on characters created by Steve Gordon. Camera Stephen H. Burum. Editor Michael Kahn. Music Burt Bacharach. Production design Gene Callahan. Art direction Hub Braden. Set decoration P. Michael Johnstone. Costumes Anna Hill Johnston. Sound Jim Tannenbaum. With Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, Geraldine Fitzgerald, John Gielgud, Kathy Bates, Paul Benedict, Cynthia Sikes, Stephen Elliott, Jack Gilford.

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.

MPAA-rated: PG (parental guidance suggested).


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