Can we stop thinking about Russell Brand now? Britain’s bad-boy comic, who scored a vocal hit last week as the teen bunny in Hop, looked to parlay his animated success by starring in a remake of the 1981 Dudley Moore comedy Arthur. But audiences decided they’d rather hear Brand than see him. The holdover Hop, which dropped 42% from last weekend’s winning tally, won the battle of the Brands. Its $21.7 million earned it the top spot in North American theaters, according to early studio estimates, while Arthur grossed just $12.6 million, well below expectations, in its opening frame. Total theatrical revenue was down about 6% from the same weekend last year, with box-office earnings still running a parlous 30% below 2010’s.
Hop and Arthur were supposed to be the one-two punch that would transform Brand known to American audiences for a supporting role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a co-star turn in Get Him to the Greek and his husbanding of Katy Perry into the next bankable comedy phenom. Here was the ideal match of new star and old property, with the ex-druggie Brand as the dipsomaniacal playboy whom Moore had made both famous and endearing. Instead of pruney John Gielgud as Arthur’s veddy proper valet, Brand had Oscar- and Emmy-winner Helen Mirren; it was the two stars’ first picture together since their plangently poetic teaming last year in Julie Taymor’s take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest . Arthur made no happier impression than did Mirren’s hosting gig on last night’s lackluster and lack-laugh episode of Saturday Night Live. Even British dames and dudes can get slapped with the wet sock of failure.
In the category of comic actors whose live-action films got whupped by their cartoon movies that opened a week or so earlier, Brand follows Steve Carell and Seth Rogen . All three stars had made their names in raunchy comedies produced by Judd Apatow. So did Danny McBride . In his new film, the R-rated medieval fantasy parody Your Highness, McBride stuck to the Apatovian formula of gross-out jokes, shock nudity and drug references. But in case no one has noticed, the young males whom this sort of film targets have stopped going to the movies. Shorn of its prime demographic, Your Highness earned less than $10 million and finished an abashed sixth at the weekend wickets.
“We took a shot at a fresh idea, and we had great talent that really wanted to break out,” Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said of Your Highness in an interview with the industry website The Wrap. “I don’t know what went wrong.” What went wrong was that the movie was dreadful; worse, it was the kind of dreadful no one wants to see. The presumed star power of Oscar-winner Natalie Portman and Oscar-night absentee co-host James Franco did nothing to bring in the crowds; and those who came wished they hadn’t. The film pulled an egregious CinemaScore grade of C-plus about what deposed New York City Schools Chancellor Cathie Black earned from Mayor Bloomberg suggesting that Your Highness will quickly be evicted from the box-office castle.