By Peter Travers
July 11, 1988 12:00 PM

You go into this one grinning. That’s how merry the memories are of the 1981 comedy with Dudley Moore as the perpetually sloshed playboy who risks a $750 million inheritance to marry his shoplifting waitress love (Liza Minnelli). But no sooner does the sequel start than a sinking feeling sets in. Moore, whose Oscar-nominated performance helped Arthur gross $95 million, isn’t funny this time. Try loud, obnoxious and overbearing. It’s a surprise—not a pleasant one—to find Arthur older, settled and still boozing. No one complains—not wife Minnelli, who wants to adopt a baby when she can’t conceive, not caseworker Kathy Bates from the adoption agency, not even jilted ex-fiancée Cynthia Sikes (replacing Jill Eikenberry in the role). They all think the tiny tippler is adorable. Sikes’s rich daddy (Stephen Elliott) conspires to bankrupt Arthur unless he agrees to divorce Minnelli and marry Sikes. Arthur tries to hold out. But low-rent housing, employment (key maker, car window washer) and poverty don’t suit him. Neither does sobriety. Grungy and bleary-eyed, Arthur ships Minnelli back to her father and ends up with the bums at a Manhattan shelter. Just then, in the nick of time to save Arthur if not the movie, John Gielgud turns up to reprise his Oscar-winning role as Hobson, Arthur’s sharp-tongued manservant. Yes, he died in the first film. But Gielgud’s back for a five-minute cameo as a ghost. “What would you do if you were me?” Arthur asks his old friend. “The word ‘bathe’ comes to mind,” retorts Gielgud in the acidly witty voice this sequel desperately lacks. Screenwriter Andy (Moving) Breckman and director Bud (Twice in a Lifetime) Yorkin mistakenly ignore the lighter-than-air tone of writer-director Steve Gordon’s original. Gordon, who died of a heart attack at 44 in 1982, gave Arthur’s intoxication the spin of 1930s screw-ball farce. In fantasy, actions have no consequences. In real life, they do. By opting for a more realistic approach, Breckman and Yorkin must try to coax laughs out of the disease of alcoholism, which is no laughing matter. Minnelli saw the problem during shooting. “It’s hard to make a drunk likable in this day and age,” she said. Even with a happy ending and a talented cast, this sequel proves it’s not just hard. It’s impossible. (PG)