Keith’s Movie Korner: ‘Arthur the King’ limps across the finish line

By Keith Walther | RLGR

On the surface, a true story of an aging endurance racer uniting with a dog on his last leg seems like one that will pull on the heartstrings, and it certainly tries, but unfortunately comes up a bit short. A filmmaking style that lacks cohesion and fluidity keeps “Arthur the King” stuck in second gear. Fortunately, there’s enough meat on the bones to satisfy some moviegoers.

Mikael Lindnord (Mark Wahlberg) is considered to be the best adventure racer never to win a race. In fact, his selfishly risky decisions often lead his race team to failure. Coming to terms with the fact he may not have many racing years left, Mikael assembles a team consisting of Chik (Ali Suliman), Leo (Simu Liu), and Olivia (Nathalie Emmanuel) to compete one more time in an epic endurance race through the Dominican Republic.

Not only is the competition fierce, but this ill-prepared team must also battle the grueling environmental conditions to finish the race, let alone win it. Along the way, they pick up a fifth member of the team, a stray dog with numerous medical issues who immediately befriends Mikael. Mikael names him Arthur and together they traverse the jungle, mountains, and sea to achieve that coveted goal of first place. In order to reach that goal, sacrifices must be made, sacrifices that may cost too much.

This is basically two movies competing for screen time, one a sports film and the other a dog movie, and neither storyline is well developed to make it a more memorable watch. Having a director who has spent most of his career helming episodic television invites bad habits that are less noticeable on the small screen. Director Simon Cellan Jones’ inexperience proves to be the film’s undoing, failing to convey a solid identity for the production. The cinematography he employs is subpar with an overuse of jump cuts, sloppy transitions, and first-person viewpoints during some of the race action scenes that are unwatchable.

The lack of character development is another glaring weakness for this film. Simon barely spares any attention on the side characters, giving each of them quick and flimsy backstories that make them inconsequential and lack depth. Not even the main character and dog receive much in the way of development, skirting around the edges of what brought them together at that point in time, rather than diving in to give viewers a true sense of the life they led up to that point. This fails to generate connectivity for the audience, which is crucial to a story like this. With that key element missing, those touching moments fall a little flatter than they should have.

Two-time Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg (“The Fighter” and “The Departed”) does his best to elevate this production with his professional acting talents. He does a well enough job crafting an authentic performance of an aging racer, whose ego and stubbornness has kept him off the winner’s podium. As the film progresses, Mark demonstrates purposeful progress and growth in his character that yields satisfying, albeit obvious, results. With four films currently in production, Wahlberg is staying busy, and “Arthur the King” will just be another forgettable blip on his career.

Bottom line, dog lovers will enjoy this film well enough but it’s no “Turner & Hooch.” Even though there are some heart tugging moments, they are not enough to make your tail wag. “Arthur the King” is not worth a trip to the theater, it’s more of a satisfying watch from the comfort of home.

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March 2024