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  • Writer's pictureBen Pivoz

Arthur the King

Michael (Mark Wahlberg) shares a moment with Arthur in Arthur the King (Distributed by Lionsgate Films)

Arthur the King is a formulaic sports movie and a manipulative, pandering, drama about a stray dog. Those are two genres I don’t care for. Combining them sounds like a nightmare to me. The trailer, which seemed to spoil the entire story, certainly did not stir up confidence in its quality. Yet, sometimes, I can be won over in spite of my prejudices. I’ll be damned if this earnest, desperate to be liked, incredibly predictable crowd-pleaser, didn’t do just that. It drags a bit in the middle, has bland supporting characters and suffers a little when it takes the focus off the specifics of the race, but it works anyway because it is so gosh darn likeable.

The keys are the engaging performance by Mark Wahlberg and the story beats showing the similarities between him and the abused dog he stumbles across in the midst of the biggest week of his life. The race at its center, though completely lacking in surprises, does manage a little tension, upgraded when Arthur enters the picture. It tries so hard to be feelgood and inspiring. Formulas become that because they are successful. Despite myself, it succeeded with me.

Michael Light is an adventure racer whose last competition ended in embarrassment. Determined to go out on his own terms, he assembles a team to compete in the World Championships in Costa Rica. Along the way, he befriends a lonely dog he names Arthur, and they form an unexpected bond amid intense conditions.

The screenplay by Michael Brandt (based on the 2016 memoir Arthur - The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home by Mikael Lindnord) ticks off the clichés: 1) An athlete who didn’t quite achieve greatness 2) who is now living a normal life with a supportive wife, adorable daughter and a job he hates 3) has a desire to prove himself with one last race 4) barely scrapes up enough money to put together a team and get them to the competition 5) surprises as a huge underdog. Add in a strong-willed dog who needs to be saved and won’t give up on this human who was casually nice to him.

Arthur the King (99 minutes without the end credits) pushes all the manipulative buttons. I would’ve been really annoyed with it if it didn’t charm me. Mark Wahlberg never fully succumbs to the story’s sentimentality. His character is so focused on redeeming himself with a win that it takes him a while to realize he has started to love this dog. Wahlberg balances the line between being a nice guy and being selfish. This isn’t a journey of discovery for him so much as his competitive side being overcome by his human side. He is very appealing here, making him easy to root for. I actually wish there had been more of the race itself but, besides a legitimately thrilling sequence taking place on a zipline, it’s pretty forgettable.

Then there is the dog. I was genuinely thankful that director Simon Cellan Jones largely stays away from treating him like a human. He mostly doesn’t go for cute reaction shots either. Arthur is an animal whose instinct is to survive. How does he sense a kindred spirit in Michael? Somehow, animals just seem to know.

Arthur the King is a family-friendly, uplifting drama that does exactly what you’d expect, exactly how you’d expect. The fact that it does it well is a pleasant surprise. It is precisely what it was intended to be, and that is enjoyable enough.


3¼ out of 5



Mark Wahlberg as Michael Light

Simu Liu as Liam

Nathalie Emmanuel as Olivia

Ali Suliman as Chik

Juliet Rylance as Helena Light

Ukai as Arthur


Directed by Simon Cellan Jones

Screenplay by Michael Brandt


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