By Rob Blackwelder
Playing an inveterate womanizer as a sympathetic hero didn't work especially well for Michael Caine in 1966's "Alfie." He was Oscar-nominated for the performance, but his title character was a misogynistic, egomaniacal cad -- taking advantage of vulnerable women, then disposing of them offhandedly. Even when a vague health problem became a plot point meant to turn his life around, there was still nothing redeemable about the jerk.
On the other hand, in this year's "Alfie" remake, the irresistible Jude Law plays a more credibly charismatic and playful playboy whose contented superficiality steadily gives way to emerging self-awareness and perceptible depth -- which surprises even Alfie himself.
As the wily rake admits -- frankly, charmingly and direct-to-camera -- his concurrent affairs with a bevy of Manhattan beauties are a product of good looks, practiced flattery, an upscale metrosexual wardrobe, his English accent and the fact that he drives a limo.
"I'm just being honest," is his shrugging mantra to the audience as we become privy to his fleeting thoughts -- even during lusty liaisons like his encounter with a married gal-pal (Jane Krakowski) in the back of a stretch Lincoln. "Obligatory cuddling," he winks at us as the encounter winds down, "one-thousand one, one-thousand two..."
But underneath the uncouth deliberateness of modern Alfie's many seductions, Law creates a three-dimensional character who recognizes his flaws, tries to minimize any damage he does to women's hearts and knows someday his lifestyle is going to come crashing down around him if he doesn't begin to change.
More importantly, the women Alfie dallies with are not doormats -- which is another very welcome departure from the 1966 film.
Marisa Tomei plays an adorable single mom who is one of his fawning "whenever" girls until she begins to assert herself, much to Alfie's dismay. Nia Long (looking dead sexy and very Foxy Brown) is his best friend's recent ex, with whom a pool-table encounter begets far more trouble than Alfie's shortsighted libido counted on. Sienna Miller (now Law's real-life girlfriend) is a slinky, kinky young model whom Alfie moves into his low-rent apartment in a brief, inharmonious attempt at a real relationship. And Susan Sarandon is magnificent as a voluptuous, monied maven of younger men in whom Alfie literally meets his match.
Each affair provides natural fodder (far more natural than in the earlier incarnation) for Alfie's semi-cognizant emotional evolution ("I find lately even lying to myself comes easily," he notes to the audience), and director Charles Shyer ("Baby Boom," "The Affair of the Necklace") surrounds his amorous anti-hero with metaphorical and literal signs (one-word billboards dot the scenery, reading PURSUE, WISH, SEARCH, etc.) that help subconsciously guide him toward growing up.
Shyer also blesses the picture with appetizing atmosphere saturated in swinging '60s jazz and rich, lustful colors.
But it's the way Alfie addresses the camera, working his charm while candidly peeling back the curtain on his psychological cogs, that gives this film its magnetism. These Id-fueled monologues (written by Shyer and "Seinfeld's" Elaine Pope) sparkle with wit, and Law's innate affability gives them that much more punch.
While "Alfie" thankfully doesn't kowtow to the looming specter of a conventional happy ending, Shyer does make one conspicuous miscalculation in the form of an extraneous character whose only purpose is to deliver unforgivable clichés of unnecessary advice. "Two things I've learned in life, kid," says Mr. Exposition, "find someone to love and live every day as if it were your last."
But even with the burden of this bozo's two incongruous scenes, "Alfie" remains a rare delight: A remake that bests its predecessor.
Run time: 103 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th November 2004
Box Office USA: $13.4M
Box Office Worldwide: $13.4M
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 49%
Fresh: 73 Rotten: 77
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Charles Shyer
Starring: Jude Law as Alfie, Marisa Tomei as Julie, Omar Epps as Marlon, Jane Krakowski as Dorie, Renée Taylor as Lu Schnitman, Jeff Harding as Phil, Sienna Miller as Nikki, Nia Long as Lonette, Susan Sarandon as Liz, Katherine LaNasa as Uta
Also starring: Renee Taylor
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