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ALFIE (R) (2004)

Paramount

Official Site

Director: Charles Shyer

Producers: Charles Shyer, Elaine Pope

Written by: Charles Shyer, Elaine Pope; from the original play and screenplay by Bill Naughton

Cast: Jude Law, Sienna Miller, Susan Sarandon, Marisa Tomei, Nia Long, Omar Epps, Jane Krakowski, Gedde Watanabe. Dick Latessa

Rating:


It’s an odd career ambition, to shoot for becoming the reigning king of the remake, but writer-director Charles Shyer is well on the way to achieving it. None of his remakes (The Parent Trap, the Father Of The Bride movies) are embarrassments, and while none have been movies for the ages, they have generally provided hours of decent entertainment. Alfie is Shyer’s best remake yet. The soft-focus sentimentality that marred the aforementioned works may have been due to the contributions of his former wife and writing partner, Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give). A look at the films they’ve each made since their split-up—Alfie, Something’s Gotta Give—gives a pretty clear picture of who handled which writing duties. Decision: Mr. Shyer.

The original 1966 Alfie is the classic movie that made Michael Caine’s career. (My prayers of thanksgiving ascend even now, that the filmmaker didn’t pull that nonsense like in the remake of Get Carter—another classic Caine role—and have Caine show up in some small role in Alfie.) His portrayal of the womanizing, amoral Cockney forced to examine his light attitude toward sex and life both charmed and repelled. It is a great job of acting, one of those perfect fits where the actor is so deep into the character that all you can say is “Damn!” At any rate, if you haven’t seen the original Alfie, run, do not walk, to your local video outlet and check it out this excellent movie. Obviously I love Alfie. Alfie is one of my desert-island movies. I had grave reservations, and some pissiness, about anyone anywhere revisiting this material. Not only were the original performances prime, the story captured a time and place that’s long gone. My bad. I was thinking remakes.

What Shyer really does is updates.

Also, he’s apparently as big a fan of the original movie as I am.

Shyer’s Alfie hops the pond to take place in New York City, where nattily attired Alfie Elkins (Law) is a part-time limo driver and full-time pussy hound. The movie keeps intact Alfie’s objectification of the women he beds, as well as the device of having Alfie address the audience directly. A lot. In fact, most of the story gets told that way. You’ve got to be ingratiatingly charming to get away with that and Law, like Caine, is up to the task.

Eventually though, Alfie’s philandering brings him to book, first with anxiety-driven ED—a funny and clever substitute for the TB that sidelines the original Alfie—then as the human toll of casual sex is borne in upon him. Law is quite a pretty fellow, but more delicate and less, well, manly than Caine. He handles the Lothario stuff quite well, but his looks are frankly a bit of a hindrance during scenes when Alfie experiences genuine, adult emotions. Law’s moments of clarity are nowhere near as affecting as Caine’s. Sorrow just looks kind of pouty on Jude Law.

The movie certainly has the attitude of the original. It moves from fun and games to the serious business of life in the right way, even managing to update the abortion subplot in a way that works. (It is, however, a little weird to have all this sexual adventuring and not to acknowledge AIDS, Chlamydia, Herpes, and any number of other unpleasant STDs.) The modern-day character of Alfie makes sense because, while not a Rat Pack-era devotee, he is as much of a stylist as those guys in Swingers. Also, Shyer has the happy gift of repurposing lines from the original movie, and further shows his admiration by mingling new black-and-white shots with the old end credits. In place of the sublimely cool Sonny Rollins soundtrack, we get Sir Mick and scenes underscored by song lyrics so lacking in finesse that I would not have been surprised if he sang “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch!” This movie marks yet another fabulous Susan Sarandon performance, in a bit of a twist on the Shelley Winters role, and the official reinstatement of Marisa Tomei to the ranks of Decent Actress.

Shyer’s Alfie doesn’t have the bite of Bill Naughton’s original story (but Dylan Kidd’s Roger Dodger obviously worshipped at the temple of Alfie except Kidd has Roger address his remarks on sex to a young Padawan instead of directly to the audience), but I am delighted at just how good this movie is, on its own.

—Roxanne Bogucka

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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