What kind of man reads Playboy?
By Devin D. O'Leary
Directed by Charles Shyer
Cast: Jude Law, Susan Sarandon, Marisa Tomei
The original 1966 version of Alfie is a classic. But, unless you grew up in swingin' '60s London, the film probably doesn't count as a sacred cinematic treasure along the lines of, say, Gone With The Wind. Which means, of course, that it's prime fodder for a Hollywood remake. The odd thing about trying to remake Alfie, however, is that roughly 90 percent of the film's appeal lies in the star-making turn by fresh-faced leading man Michael Caine.
Perhaps the wisest choice the makers of the newly Americanized version of Alfie made was in replacing Caine with fellow Brit Jude Law. Unlike Caine in 1966, Law is a well-established movie actor as well as a noted pretty boy. Law does, however, sport much of the same confident charisma that made Caine an overnight sensation when he took on the iconic role of Alfie Elkins. It should be noted, as well, that the story began life as a stage play; so Caine didn't exactly have exclusive license to the character. (In fact, Caine's roommate at the time, Terence Stamp, originated the role on stage--but turned down the subsequent movie role, giving Caine his first big break.)
Today, Law takes over the role of Alfie Elkins, the quintessential happy-go-lucky cad. In this version, Alfie's happy hunting grounds have moved from London to Manhattan. There, our ladykilling hero spends his days working as a limo driver and his nights chasing the local “birds.” Like a libidinous version of Ferris Bueller, Alfie narrates his tale directly to the movie audience, currying favor and spewing out his own cockeyed philosophy of life. This Alfie is a clothes horse, a party animal and a sexual dynamo--all of which makes him look a bit like the one-man stage show version of “Sex and the City.”
Although the film bills itself as a comedy, it quickly turns the corner into downbeat drama. Alfie, of course, is ripe for some Hollywood-style character development. Fortunately, Alfie isn't the story of a womanizer who falls madly in love with some skinny starlet like Julia Roberts and repents his bachelor ways. Alfie, quite frankly, has no clue what love is. It passes him by on a daily basis and he never even notices. Alfie isn't a tale of redemption so much as realization.
Alfie starts out by dumping a loyal single mother (steadfast Marisa Tomei) because she's “getting too close.” He follows it up by sleeping with his best friend's fiancée (Nia Long). After that, it's on to shacking up with a crazy model (Sienna Miller in a toothsome debut) and hooking up with a sexy sugar mama (Susan Sarandon, still vamping it up quite handily). Naturally, all of this ends up badly. By the end of the film, our hero has been tossed out past the breakers, churned up in the sea of love and spit back onto the shore, naked, wet and confused as a newborn babe.
The film is really one big morality play. Writer/director Charles Shyer (Baby Boom, Father of the Bride, The Parent Trap) acknowledges this, shooting the entire thing in a rarefied fairy tale light. New York hasn't looked this good since the days of Breakfast at Tiffany's. Manhattan is portrayed as a mod paradise filled with beautiful people and iconic billboards. It's certainly Shyer's freest and freshest directing gig to date.
The script does follow the original story line fairly closely. Even so, karma seems to operate a bit too efficiently in this universe. Aflie's irresponsible couplings are quickly and all-too-definitively punished.
Although the film has been more-or-less updated to fit with today's sexual mores, the “message” of it all seems a bit outdated. Seeing a handsome young lad sleeping around with a bunch of sexy young gals is hardly shocking in this day and age. Sure, he's a little committment-phobic, but those gals from “Sex and the City” could fornicate rings around this boy toy. In today's world of religious extremism, international war, political corruption, AIDS epidemics and pedophile priests, a hedonistic playboy with good fashion sense seems almost ... quaint. Does our boy really deserve the kind of ironic comeuppance usually reserved for Nazi officers and evil drug kingpins?
Ah, who knows? At least half the audiences will be perfectly happy with Alfie's randy adventures. The film looks like a million bucks, the soundtrack (by Mic Jagger and Dave Stewart) is magnificent and Law strikes a fine balance between casual cad and emotional whipping boy. I'm not saying you'll love the guy—but you might still enjoy spending a couple hours with him.
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