Alfie (2004) * 1/2
Directed by Charles Shyer, Written and produced by Elaine Pope and Shyer, from the film (1966) and the stage play by Bill Naughton. Photography, Ashley Rowe. Editing, Padraic McKinley. Production design, Sophie Becker. Music, Mick Jagger, David A. Stewart , John Powell with songs performed by Jagger and Stewart. A Paramount release103 minutes. R.
CAST: Jude Law (Alfie), Renee Taylor (Lu Schnitman), Jane Krakowski (Dorie), Susan Sarandon (Liz), Sienna Miller (Nikki), Jeff Harding (Phil), Marisa Tomei (Julie), Kevin Rahm (Terry), Max Morris (Max), Omar Epps (Marlon) Sienna Miller (Nikki) and Nia Long (Lonette).
In 1964 the great (to be) Michael Caine (later Sir Michael) made his first major impression in “Zulu”, where, oddly, he played an aristocratic officer. With “The Ipress File” (1965) and “Alfie” (1966) Caine became a star. He was in his early Thirties. So is Jude Law who now stars in the remake of “Alfie.”
In the original movie Caine played a Cockney, which he really was. In the current film –which transposes the story to New York City—is of undefined background but looks and acts like a man about town. What both Alfies have in common is that they suffer from satyriasis. The word means “a psychological condition of men characterized by uncontrollable sexual desire and an inability to have lasting sexual relationships.” That’s the male equivalent of nymphomania.
The Caine movie, no doubt inspired by the 1960s sexual laissez-faire, evolution and revolution, was a savage one in many ways, which I will not delve on.
The remake is milder. Alfie 2 is a chic, well-groomed fellow who drives a limousine in Manhattan and plans, with his friend Marlon (Omar Epps) to start their own limo business. In the meantime Alfie , a lady-killer, has sex with a motley array of women, including –on the car’s back seat—customers.
The new Alfie has a slew of sex partners. One is Julie (Marisa Tomei)—whom he refers to as his “semi-permanent girlfriend” —a single mother of a son that Alfie loves. In the course of the movie Alfie seduces (that’s an imprecise term) several other women, including Nia Long who is Marlon’s (his best friend’ s!) girl.
We learn all that –and more about the man-- as ever-present Alfie relates it from the screen, addressing us (the public) in a long series of appearances. (Think of the fourth wall.) “His” women will eventually include the party-girl Nikki (Sienna Miller) with whom he co-habits for some time until he starts thinking of her as “a damaged Greek statue” and the much older but most appealing Liz (Susan Sarandon) who is a cosmetics queen and who reserves a nasty put-down of Alfie.
All along, we tour Manhattan with Alfie, whether on his cute Vespa, his immaculate limo, or on foot. Throughout, Alfie smokes non-stop but never coughs, and New York is shot in an unappetizing way, often garish and in garish colors.
There’s a device of showing billboards that spell words like “DESIRE,” “WISH,” “SEARCH” etc. that are awkward comments on Alfie’s lifestyle. It is a rip-off of Agnes Varda’s controversial (but for me ****) 1965 movie “Le Bonheur” (“Happiness”) which did this, far better. (It was not noticed by viewers who did not know French.)
Among the highlights of the film there are visits to a strange doctor when Alfie starts suffering from erectile disfunction –but there is no Viagra publicity. It’s a passing thing… and the man keeps addressing us about his clothes, his women, his strategies, and such. There’s also a meeting (in the toilets) with a new widower, an older man who somehow is worked in as a sort of chorus.
All in all, the movie is dull. It telegraphs the eventual downfall of Alfie-the-cad. And, carefully, it tries not to put down most of the women. That would be a kiss of death nowadays. In most ways this is a de-fanging of the original “Alfie.” Additionally, it skirts totally the existence of AIDS, something that was unknown in the era of the first “Alfie.”
A number of people have characterized the “Alfie 2” main character, as a “Metrosexual,” a term which I suspect is not in vogue in cities with non-metropolitan populations.