Alfie:a dry, anachronistic remake.

Running thoughts on movies and their makings.
Nov. 5 2004 5:45 PM

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Alfie:a dry, anachronistic remake.

In the remake of Alfie, Jude Law is a blue-eyed, pretty-boy English limousine driver in Manhattan who sleeps with a lot of beautiful women and is, on the whole, meltingly sweet to them, but can't commit because they make him feel … well, not trapped, he says, when he fumbles to explain himself, but like trapped. That "like" is the movie's idea of nuance. The '60s original was a lousy, obvious movie, too, but sexual abrasiveness was in vogue, and as the frankly caddish anti-hero, Michael Caine had a raw, angry presence. (We take Caine too much for granted, don't we? No matter how much technique he develops, he never loses that rawness: Emotion still makes him flush.) Law's Alfie has a soft center. The deadliest men sometimes do—it goes hand-in-glove with their misogyny. Yet Law has a moist empathy for the women he dumps. And the writing is on the wall, literally: a poster of Bruce Weber's paean to Chet Baker and his beautiful doomed cool, Let's Get Lost. Lost soul Law, however, is less Chet Baker than Chuck Mangione.

The film isn't precisely toothless: The director, Charles Shyer (Baby Boom, Father of the Bride, I LoveTrouble), made sure to put in his dentures. He commissioned a score from fellow codger Mick Jagger, and he seems to think that what he's showing us has bite. Alfie isn't a total loss: It features lovely performances from Jane Krakowski; Marisa Tomei; and Susan Sarandon as a hedonistic, hard-edged perfume mogul: Alfie thinks he's got the upper hand because of her age, but he doesn't realize that handsome young limo drivers are pretty much interchangeable. (Digression: Did you read about 22-year-old Robert Wagner and 45-year-old Barbara Stanwyck? And the fact that their love didn't dare speak its name until all these years later?)

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Alfie has a lot of unfashionable (in studio movies, anyway) heavy drinking, smoking, drug use, miscegenation, etc., but it's all suffused in the dreariest moralism. This is an ugly, blue-tinged movie that telegraphs every plot turn. By the time Shyer and his ex-spouse, Nancy Meyers (What Women Want), get around to an idea, it has been pretty much bled dry. At very least Shyer could have used Jude Law to get some good jokes out of the way British men take advantage of their Old World superiority to get laid: They play up their accents and bat their eyes, and their confidence gives them magnetism that they don't have back home, where they're more likely to end up in Slough or manning the head-machine at some pork-processing plant.

David Edelstein is Slate's film critic. You can read his reviews in "Reel Time" and in "Movies." He can be contacted at slatemovies@slate.com.

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