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April 01, 2005

ALFIE

What’s It Not About?
Watered Down Alfie Remake Evaporates
By Cole Smithey

Alfieposter Michael Caine’s 1966 breakout performance as a swinging London stud is emulated, but not matched, by Jude Law in a predictably misjudged remake that withers where the original film blossomed. This time around, our notable British seducer is transplanted to Manhattan where his job as a limo driver miraculously finances the Prada pinstriped suits he wears as he tools around town on an endless search for female conquests. Director/co-writer Charles Shyer ("The Affair Of The Neckless") pads the movie with airy scenes of Alfie’s direct-to-audience monologues during increasingly dull scenes of Alfie’s self-satisfied skirt lifting. Where the original film gradually shifted from romantic comedy to drama before delivering a socially charged emotional TKO in the third act, Shyer’s movie confuses dialogue for plot and depends solely on Jude Law’s ever-watchable charm to do the heavy lifting. Even Michael Caine’s career would have gone nowhere if he had made this version of "Alfie."

A large part of the remake’s failure lies in the source material’s specifically ‘60s origins as a theatrical play by Bill Naughton about a Cockney man/boy in love with himself. Naughton’s Alfie was riddled with a self-doubt that made the character’s constant preening and posturing understandable, if not a forgivable nervous affectation. Here was a poor Cockney kid who spent all his carefully saved pennies on nice clothes and walked down wealthy streets to pretend that he not only lived there but that he actually belonged there. He worked at his charm and his work paid off.

But in writer/director Charles Shyer’s freshly machined version of "Alfie" (co-written by American television writer Elaine Pope - "Seinfeld") our poor little British chap has already conquered the infamous success mountain of Manhattan to further distance himself from Britain’s well-known class distinctions. But the writers here completely ignore strict American class striations, whereby a person is defined by their job title and type of car they drive, to allow for a character that’s more of a Eurotrash con artist than a testosterone-driven socially repressed misfit.

Strikingly absent in this glossy version is the connection Caine’s Alfie had to his own child from a common law marriage. Jude Law’s Alfie is never glimpsed as having a patriarchal bone in his body. In the original version, we got to see a paternal side to Alfie that was attracted to spending time with his son.He wanted to have some impact on the boy’s life. This was crucial information that resonated later in the original story when Alfie begins to face up to his mortality, based on his experience with a terminally ill roommate at the hospital where he himself recovered from a serious illness.

The modernized Alfie makes a crisis-inducing mistake when he beds his best friend’s ex-girlfriend and gets her pregnant in the process. Alfie’s indiscretion is amplified because he takes advantage of an opportunity when he should be guiding the girl, Lonette (Nia Long), back into the arms of Marlon (Omar Epps), a man who truly loves her.

Susan Sarandon breathes welcome life into the otherwise stale movie as Liz, a glamorous cosmetics tycoon who lures Alfie into her own web of sexual butterfly collecting. For her few scenes, Sarandon momentarily shifts the focus of the film toward a more appropriately condescending regard for our  anti-protagonist. In so doing Liz offers a glimpse of role reversal that’s damaging on a very different level.

Charles Shyer’s "Alfie" is a movie-length commercial for American consumption that includes sex as an object to be compared to any other kind of product. The quick-cut montages don’t so much tell a story as they present an artificial lifestyle that the audience is expected to desire regardless of any minor embarrassment they might eventually face. There is no morality to this movie, much less an overriding moral to the story.

Rated R. 100 mins. (C-) (Two Stars)

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