“It doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, as long as you can buy anything on the planet you’ve ever wanted.” The sage speaker here could only be that rich source of tipsy philosophy, Arthur Bach. When last we saw our sozzled friend, in 1981’s Arthur, the millionaire scion was tottering off to marriage with his “commoner” girlfriend and turning his back on his society fiancée and her wrathful father.
As Arthur 2: On the Rocks opens, we find Arthur (played again by Dudley Moore as a fountain of unbridled hedonism) largely unchanged. Married life agrees with him, as wife Linda (Liza Minnelli, also back from the first film) puts up with his childish, or is it childlike, behavior because, well, the guy is a ball to be around.
But there is trouble on the horizon. That spurned ex-fiancee (Cynthia Sikes) still wants her old flame, and her father (Stephen Elliott) hatches a plot to bankrupt Arthur—the better to blackmail the little fellow into getting a divorce and marrying the daughter. Naturally, Arthur will have none of it. So the Rolls disappears, the servants vanish, and the formerly wealthy couple are out on the street.
This is the concept, and in Andy Breckman’s script there are opportunities for fish-out-of-water jokes in Arthur’s search for an apartment, his hunt for a job (applying at a hardware store, he submits his last job held as “Millionaire Playboy”), and finally his drop into the substrata of New York’s flophouses. Meanwhile, the couple’s plan to adopt a child, already in jeopardy because of Arthur’s fondness for the bottle, has been put on permanent hold.
Breckman provides Moore with some zingy one-liners, and much of the early going is in the same spirit, and spirits, of the first Arthur. And speaking of spirits, Arthur 2 has an appearance by the butler (John Gielgud) who died in the original film. Here the sardonic Gielgud returns as a ghost to counsel his wayward ward.
As amusing as some scenes are, the director, Bud Yorkin (Twice in a Lifetime), doesn’t find the sustained comic rhythm that the movie needs. (The writer-director of the original Arthur was Steve Gordon, who passed away in the interim.) The timing is off, and scenes seem to dangle long after they’ve yielded whatever funny stuff they contain.
All the sober-minded critics (and there were quite a few of them) who complained that the first film glorified the ingestion of alcohol will be relieved to find that Arthur clambers on to the wagon in this sequel, thereby neatly defining the difference between the early part of this decade and the end of it. I guess that counts as a victory for the bluenoses over the rednoses.
First published in the Herald, July 1988
It might have some funny moments, but such a disappointment after the wonderful first movie, which was the only film directed by Steve Gordon. Cynthia Sikes was on “St. Elsewhere,” you will recall; here she replaced an actress, Jill Eikenberry, who was a regular on another long-term series, “L.A. Law.” I don’t think that means anything.