Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 3, 2011)
Since I thought 1981’s Arthur provided a pretty weak comedy, why did I decide to check out its 1988 sequel, Arthur 2: On the Rocks? Perverse curiosity, I suppose. I felt so disenchanted that even though Rocks seems viewed as a disaster, I wanted to find out for myself how it compared to the original.
Though now married to Linda (Liza Minnelli), super-rich Arthur Bach (Dudley Moore) continues to live the life of the drunken man-child. He gets a reality check when Linda tells him she can’t reproduce but wants to adopt. Arthur agrees so they set about plans to do so, a matter complicated by the fact that not many adoption agencies take kindly to such an irresponsible prospective father.
In addition, Arthur’s financial status changes. His father (Thomas Barbour) merges his firm with the one controlled by Burt Johnson (Stephen Elliott). In the first film, Arthur was almost forced to marry Johnson’s daughter Susan (Cynthia Sikes) but he left her at the altar to get with Linda.
Susan continues to carry a torch for Arthur, and Burt – who nearly killed Arthur in rage – plots his revenge. The merger leaves Arthur’s fortune in tatters, as Burt arranges to get the family to cut off his funds. If Arthur divorces Linda and marries Susan, he gets back his money. Otherwise he’s on his own – and he needs to find work.
If it takes a long time for a sequel to hit the market, a few different factors can come into play. Sometimes the prospective sequels just get stuck in “development hell”, and other times, those involved can’t muster the finances; when films make megabucks, various parties want a bigger cut of the pie the second time.
Then there’s the reason I think connects to Rocks: desperation. After Arthur turned Moore into a major star, his career almost immediately fizzled. He starred in prominent bombs such as Best Defense - which even a red-hot Eddie Murphy couldn’t save – and Santa Claus.
By 1988, Moore’s career had fallen on hard times, so I suspect that’s why he agreed to make an Arthur sequel. He needed something to revive his fortunes and a second Arthur must’ve felt like a sure thing.
Or maybe not, as Rocks made a poor $14 million in the US. Moore’s career never rebounded.
I won’t say that Rocks was the final nail in that particular coffin, but the film sure didn’t help, as it deserves its miserable reputation. While I won’t say that it made me appreciate the original, but it did make its predecessor look good by comparison.
Remarkably, Rocks takes an grating character and makes him even more annoying. Moore’s “lovable drunk” shtick didn’t work the first time; Arthur was much more self-absorbed buffoon than likable loll-about. Arthur’s gags and cackle don’t become more enchanting the second time around, and he’s even less amusing here.
The other characters vary between utterly forgettable and utterly obnoxious. Normally I’d plop Minnelli – one of my least-favorite performers – in the former category, but Rocks gives her such a bland personality that even Liza can’t register a reaction. In the original, I couldn’t figure out why Arthur loved Linda, but at least Minnelli showed some life. Here Linda exists mostly as a plot device, and Minnelli has little to do other than mope and seem depressed.
On the other hand, the various Johnsons border on evil incarnate. Can anyone explain why Susan maintains such a crush on Arthur? In the first movie, she seemed interested in Arthur mostly for the social/financial ramifications of the family merger. In Rocks, she indicates that she’s madly in love with Arthur – why? She’s attractive, smart and successful – why would she carry a torch for a moronic buffoon like Arthur?
Even though her Satanic father develops the plan to bring Arthur back to her, Susan cooperates fully and turns nasty herself. Really, the sequel’s Susan feels like a totally different character than the uptight society girl of the first movie – and not just because a different actor takes over the part.
Even if the actors made something out of their parts, the film bogs them down in tedium. To a certain degree, Rocks remakes the original with a twist. In the first flick, Arthur had to choose between happiness with Linda and money; here, he essentially has the same choice. His attempts to earn his own living throw sin a curveball, but it all leads back to his choice: marry Linda or be broke.
Bizarrely, Rocks takes that simple plot and makes it last nearly two hours. The flick clocks in at 113 minutes – 113 really long minutes. Arthur ran only 97 minutes and seemed slow; with another 16 minutes at its disposal, Rocks becomes even more of an endurance test.
Contrived and tedious, Rocks flops in virtually all possible ways. I can’t call it a disappointment because its predecessor wasn’t much better, but any hopes that it’d rise above its origins quickly became dashed.