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
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.