ARTHUR THE KING – Review – We Are Movie Geeks



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Ali Suliman as Chik, Mark Wahlberg as Michael, Nathalie Emmanuel as Olivia and Simu Liu as Leo in Arthur The King. Photo Credit: Carlos Rodriguez

Geez, the movies have really gone to the dogs. Sure, lots of folks constantly use that as an insult to modern cinema, but with this weekend’s big release it’s a bit true (so pardon the “groaner dad-joke” of a pun). With lots of kiddies enjoying either the end or the beginning of “Spring break”, there’s got to be more for them in the multiplex other than the further adventures of that KUNG FU PANDA. And so, it’s the canine stars to the rescue, with this new “good boy” joining the ranks of Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, and even Beethoven. Plus he’s got a bit of an advantage since his tail (er, tale) is a true one (or at least “inspired by true events”) which already spawned a beloved book. And it doesn’t hurt that his human co-star is quite a “bankable” actor who bounces from family fare to action blockbusters. He’s the knight who “serves” ARTHUR THE KING.

That guy in question is “adventure racer” Mike Light (Mark Wahlberg). So what is this “adventure racing”? Well, he’s the leader of a group of athletes (more like tri-athletes) who compete with other teams to win a race based in exotic, and often brutal, world locations. And running’s just part of it, along with mountain climbing, hiking, biking, and canoeing. The movie’s story starts back in 2015 as Mike’s team (which is backed by several sponsors) is humiliated online as they “run out of the river” and must pull their boats through the mud. Cut to three years later with Mike back at his home in Colorado and starting a family with one of his former teammates. But he’s still yearning for “game glory” as he rankles at working with his prickly papa in the real estate biz. Oh, but a big new race is coming up, and Mike wants one more chance at a big win. But his backers make some demands. Mike’s got to re-unite with social media “showboat” Leo (Simu Liu), though he’s able to bring back old pal Chil (Ali Suhlman), despite his recent knee surgery. Oh, and he’s got a “newbie” in Olivia (Nathalie Emmanuel), a “second generation” racer hoping to honor her legendary pop. Soon they all meet in the Dominican Republic. It’s a tough race until they get an unexpected assist from a wounded dirty “street dog” who likes Mike’s meatball snacks. The team and the pooch get separated, but the pup always catches up to help. Mike names him “Arthur” after the iconic “King of the Britons”. Though he’s far from royalty, Arthur and Mike form a bond that is truly tested after the “finish line”.

With this new role, Wahlberg merges his intimidating physical prowess with his affable “family guy” vibe as Light. Thankfully he also gets to convey Mike’s “arc” from the bullheaded “alpha” in the opening flashback to his slowly building respect and affection for the abused dog that becomes a guiding guardian angel to him. Wahlberg pours that emotional intensity into the final act in which he’s got to be Arthur’s true champion. He certainly isn’t upstaged by his canine co-star, much as he holds the screen with his fellow actors, especially in the bickering battle of egos with his “frenemy” Leo played with blustery charm by the always engaging Liu. Leo also has a change of heart as he soon puts his teammates, including Arthur, ahead of his appetite for online “hits”. Emmanuel has a nice no-nonsense persona as the formidable Olivia, who laughs off an injury that will have audiences squirming. Suhlman is also compelling and endearing as the amiable but determined (that knee won’t slow him down) Chik. And vieing for the most adorable cast member, Cece Valentina as Mike’s daughter Ruby (who loves that pink nail polish on Daddy) goes toe to paw with the soulful big brown eyes of Arthur himself.

Director Simon Cellan Jones makes excellent use of the gorgeous exotic locations whose beauty almost obscures the dangers around every turn. The competition sequences are truly immersive as we’re squeezed right into the tiny watercraft, and climbing every green step of a steep hill. The film’s big action highlight happens around the midpoint as a zip line hundreds of feet above the forest tests both their strength and smarts, along with the nerves of the viewers (but it looks like “big fun” for a while). The use of narration (“play by play”) from reality TV star Bear Grylls really helps clarify the race segments and rules. Ah, but the competition is really a backdrop for the story of a budding man/dog love story. Jones still shows the harsh reality of Arthur’s life on those mean streets as other dogs defend their turf. This adds more emotional weight to the final act as Mike puts everything “on the line” for his new pal, in heart-wrenching scenes that may inspire some OLD YELLER flashbacks for the baby boomers. The lil’ tykes may get a bit distressed but the uplifting story will bring a smile and maybe a tiny tear to all the “fur baby” parents. Yes, it’s manipulative, but the sports backdrop and lush landscapes make this new family flick fit for a crown-wearing (maybe on his dog collar) ARTHUR THE KING.

2.5 Out of 4

ARTHUR THE KING is now playing in theatres everywhere

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.