Film reviews and more since 2009

Arthur the King (2024) review

Dir. Simon Cellan Jones

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★½

For Mark Wahlberg, the days of captivating audiences with the brand of edginess he displayed in Boogie Nights and Rock Star are long gone. In recent years, Wahlberg has become the cinematic equivalent of country singer Blake Shelton. Beyond an undeniable talent, Wahlberg, like Shelton, is an endlessly charismatic presence with undeniable talent. However, as is the case with Shelton, don’t expect Wahlberg to do much more than smile and play to the strengths of his personality going forward. Shelton’s even got a song called “I’ll Name the Dogs,” which, quite honestly, would’ve fit seamlessly if played during the final minutes of Wahlberg’s newest movie, Arthur the King.

Like how Shelton went from daringly different songs like “Austin” and “Ol’ Red” to milquetoast light-AC tunes such as “God Gave Me You” and “Happy Anywhere” with his wife Gwen Stefani, Mark Wahlberg has settled comfortably into the role of a movie star whose films are serviceable entertainment, but little else. Sure, Father Stu was a uniquely R-rated faith-based film in which Wahlberg shined, but from Daddy’s Home to several Netflix original movies, it’s become apparent that, at least in this stage of his career, Wahlberg is content to just playing himself.

This is true even in Arthur the King, where Wahlberg plays a real person in Mikael Lindnord, a Swedish adventure racer who assembles a team to race across the Ecuador border along with a scrappy stray dog he would go on to name Arthur.

For the film adaptation, Lindnord’s name (and likeness) is Americanized to Michael Light and the setting where this massive, 435-mile race takes place shifts to the Dominican Republic. Michael’s team consists of Leo (Simu Liu), a racer who doubles as an influencer; Olivia (Nathalie Emmanuel), who has been put through the ringer by his strict and ambitious father, and Chik (Ali Suliman), a grizzled athlete now nursing a bum leg. The race itself involves running, climbing, ziplining, and rowing through every conceivable bit of terrain the DR offers.

While the various sights and landscapes of the Dominican could indeed become a character of their own, they’re no match for the beady-eyed cuteness of “Arthur.” Michael first spots Arthur as a helpless stray begging for a couple meatballs until some-100 miles or so later, in a totally different spot in the country, he runs into the dog again and the group decides to take him along for the ride, even as their food supply (and energy levels) dwindle.

Arthur the King wants to tell an inspiring story of perseverance and dedication, even if those very two traits are what compels Michael to drain his family’s savings in pursuit of one last shot of glory. Whether it’s Michael’s fixation on beating the odds or Olivia’s father’s effect on her life, the human drama is underserved by the filmmakers, whose notes must’ve read something along the lines of “get to the cute dog.” Arthur is a laudable, scrappy pup, but he’s also used as a vessel for emotional manipulation throughout the film.

Last month, Ordinary Angels surprised me greatly. It was a melodramatic, lightly faith-based film that was character-focused and built to a suspenseful climax. With two-dimensional human characters, Arthur the King feels flatter, more weightless. What does this tell us? That even a 435-mile expedition across dangerous terrain can be rendered unexciting without character development.

NOTE: Arthur the King is now playing exclusively in theaters.

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Simu Liu, Juliet Rylance, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ali Suliman, Bear Grylls, and Paul Guilfoyle. Directed by: Simon Cellan Jones.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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