Overly long by 15 minutes and very contrived, ‘Arthur 2 On the Rocks’ is not as classy a farce as the original, but still manages to be an amusing romp for most of its length. Audiences who found Dudley Moore a most charming, irresponsible rich drunk in the first chapter most likely will enjoy more of his antics here as he tries to sober up – resulting in a nice summer hit for Warner Bros.
Absent for much of the film is Arthur’s (Moore) sarcastic and now-deceased butler, John Gielgud, who was the foil for many of the setups in ‘Arthur,’ and in this followup comes in late in the show as an admonishing ghost only when his former charge is experiencing the d.t.s.
To fill the void, scripter Andy Breckman replaces their funny symbiotic relationship with a series of anxi-ety-causing conflicts that make Arthur drink himself – literally – into a homeless state.
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Five years into their marriage and living the enviable Park Avenue lifestyle with the kind of digs photo-graphed by Architectural Digest (production designer gene Callaghan deserves special recognition for his lavish, tasteful sets), wife Linda (Liza Minnelli) finds she’s unable to conceive and goes about adopting a baby.
While Minnelli is gung ho to expand the fold, Arthur’s ex-girlfriend’s father (Stephen Elliott) seeks to break it apart. Vindictive over having his love-struck daughter stood up at the altar by Arthur last time around, he works up a legal trick to take away the wastrel’s $750,000,000 fortune and force him to marry his daughter after all.
Penniless, unskilled and not exactly ambitious, Arthur – still drinking – tries to find work but is thwarted at every turn at the same time his wife all-too-easily adapts to waitressing at a diner to make ends meet.
Some of the drinking gags are reworked or expanded to adapt to this scenario versus the simpler plotting of Arthur’s dilemma to marry or not marry the WASP g.f. (Cynthia Sikes this time).
Though not critical to the pleasures of watching Moore in one of his best screen roles, it does undermine his performance when he has lesser personalities to tease. New butler Fairchild (Paul Benedict) is a bit of a dull tool as compared to the pricelessly dry Gielgud, and Sikes is pretty but not nearly as humorously air-headed as was Jill Eikenberry in the same role. Back again to speak a few vulgarities is Geraldine Fitz-gerald as the family matriarch.
Minnelli loses some of her working class sassiness as the downtown-gone-uptown-gone- downtown wife trying to put her house in order, though credit is due her for carrying plot’s best scenes.
When the playful protagonist’s excessive drinking (some would say alcoholism) puts him in the streets and in the company of winos, the plot goes sour.
Pic concludes in a great, messy heap with too much tied up too easily. We can assume that if Arthur finally sobers up for good, he won’t be funny enough for another chapter.
Production values, for the most part, are terrific. Gotham – also repped by studio shooting in Burbank – photographed at Christmastime (which is kind of odd for a summer release), looks lovely under Stephen H. Burum’s lensing, though Michael Kahn’s editing is occasionally choppy. Scoring by Burt Bacharach is strangely nondescript.
Pic is dedicated to ‘Arthur’ director and scripter Steve Gordon, who died following the release of the first film.