`Arthur 2' has everything going for it but a story

What do you give a man who has everything? If his name is Arthur, and he was a big movie hero not long ago, you give him a sequel - called ``Arthur 2 on the Rocks,'' and featuring many of the stars who made the original ``Arthur'' a major hit, including Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli. The hero is again Arthur Bach, an irresponsible and irrepressible millionaire whose most memorable qualities are a big sense of humor and an even bigger love for alcoholic beverages. In his first picture, he fell in love with a waitress, and all kinds of complications arose - with results that countless moviegoers found irresistible.

What he doesn't have in his new movie - and what the makers of that movie don't have - is a bright new idea of some kind. ``Arthur 2 on the Rocks'' is no more subtle than Arthur's last hangover, no more original than his zillionth martini.

As you watch the opening scenes, you can almost hear the ``Arthur 2'' creative team having their script conference. Hey, everyone, what crazy situation can we put Arthur into? Here's an idea, let's take away all his money! OK, except he'd only go to a saloon and drink away his troubles. So let's have him trying to adopt a baby, which means he has to try to stay away from booze. And we'll put a rich bad guy on his trail, so he won't be able to earn, borrow, or bamboozle his money back again.

The movie works this idea through with depressing obviousness. Arthur, who still cackles at his own jokes until you want to strangle him, is now married to Linda, the former waitress. But a woman he spurned, named Susan, can't accept the idea of losing Arthur forever. So her wealthy father works out a scheme to bankrupt our hero and prevent him from putting another dime in his pocket - unless he divorces Linda and moves in with Susan. Meanwhile, an adoption agency is watching the newly destitute Arthur and Linda to see if they'd make good parents.

If you loved the original ``Arthur,'' you may get a few chuckles from the sequel, if only because so many of the same faces are on the screen. The cast includes Geraldine Fitzgerald as Arthur's grandma and (for too short a time) John Gielgud as Hobson, his faithful old butler. Also on hand is Paul Benedict as our hero's new butler, whose sense of humor is so dim that Arthur's most outrageous jokes bounce off him helplessly.

These are talented people, and Gielgud's brief appearance almost makes the whole movie worthwhile. But there's no substitute for a good story, and I'm afraid the riches-to-rags gimmick is much too stale. As a friend of mine said after a screening of ``Arthur 2,'' we came for a few laughs and what did we get? A moron's version of the Book of Job.

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