Alfie (2004) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for sexual content, language and drug use
Running Time: 103 min.
Cast: Jude Law, Marisa Tomei, Omar Epps, Nia Long, Susan Sarandon, Sienna Miller, Julienne Davis, Gedde Watanabe
Director: Charles Shyer
Screenplay: Elaine Pope, Charles Shyer
Although times have changed in the dating world since the 1960s, Alfie is still a superfluous remake that feels more like a PSA against promiscuous sex than a full-fledged romantic comedy. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the 1966 original, starring Michael Caine, but it’s an easy statement to make that the original works much better than this update. The main reason is that Caine isn’t really a pretty boy like Jude Law (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Road to Perdition), and doesn’t exude as much puppy dog charm. In fact, he’s a bit smug and arrogant, yet still able to bed down the ladies, whereas someone with Law’s looks can get by with just his appearance and a wink and a smile. In short, Caine’s misogynistic modus operandi was easier to understand, since one wouldn’t guess he was a complete player, and lent more kindly to the comedic content. Law’s feels more like shallow egotism and sex addiction, making him just an unlikable playboy not worth feeling pity for.
Of course, Jude Law is the Alfie of the title, a charming, handsome Brit living in downtown Manhattan, where the women are said to be the best looking in the world. He sleeps with as many women as he can, only becoming regular rolls in the hay for a few, but once they seem like they’re becoming attached, Alfie is quick out the door. However, there’s a price to be paid for living a life of hedonism, in this environment of unprotected sex dangers, stress-induced erectile dysfunction, and infidelity. Boy, it sure is great to live without consequences, but for every night of unbridled passion, there’s always the reality of the morning after.
In order to love Alfie you have to be one of those Jude Law fanatics -- the kind of person that has a website dedicated to him, or your bedroom is wall-to-wall with pictures and clippings from magazines. Since Alfie’s shtick is breaking the “fourth wall” and speaking directly to us in the audience, you’ll be able to sit and gush, thinking, “Oh…my…gawd…Jude Law is sooooo dreamy! And those eyes….it’s like he’s looking and talking right at me! I don’t even care what he’s saying…he’s so damn cute!!” For all who fit into this mold, go out right now and plunk down your money and whip yourself into a frothy frenzy making goo-goo eyes at the object of your obsession.
Now, for the rest of us, it’s not that cut-and-dried. Charles Shyer’s (I Love Trouble) direction is definitely engaging, with sumptuous cinematography, catchy musical interludes, and energetic camera movements and split-screen action. It has an attractive cast, and for the first half hour, it’s breezy fun.
Then the film gets complicated, and serious -- and not so fun. Yes, there’s a moral lesson to be learned here, and while I agree with it wholeheartedly, the comeuppance of a playboy just doesn’t feel weighty enough in this modern era to seem like a worthy subject for a movie. Perhaps in the era of sexual liberation of the 1960s, but it’s not enough for the sexually saturated times of 2004. The 1960s were just starting to dabble in Women’s Lib, but in this age when “Sex and the City” is mainstream fare, Alfie’s life is hardly worth noticing, much less feel anguish over when he has difficulty maintaining a perpetual erection.
“Woe is me! I’m Alfie! I can get any woman I want, but women don’t want me because I want every woman! Boo-hoo!”
I suppose it’s safe to say that there isn’t anything wrong with Alfie except that it’s a vacuous story that overreaches by trying to seem like it’s brilliantly significant. Jude Law is spot-on in his portrayal, and the supporting cast of women are not only easy on the eyes, but do a fine job in some of the more serious moments. Things get a little predictable in the delivery, and the playboy life seems so overly glamorized as to be inauthentic, but all in all, it’s not really that bad. Still, it’s not all that great either.
Recommended for the aforementioned Law fans, those who love the Cain version who are curious, and the more easily entertained of rom-com seeking audiences. Alfie famously asks himself, “What’s it all about?”, but when the credits roll, the question I asked myself was, “What the hell was Alfie all about?!”
©2004 Vince Leo