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'Alfie': Jude Law Is Bird Hunting Out of Season

By Sean Daly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 5, 2004; Page C01

The bed-hopping heroines of "Sex and the City" could spot a cad like Alfie Elkins a mile away. His carefully tousled blond mop? His devilish blue eyes? His oily pickup lines and false promises coated in a cool British ahccent? Please. Carrie and Co. might have a little naughty fun with this egocentric smarm machine, but they'd sooner send him packing with a swift Manolo Blahnik to the backside than fall in love with the creep.

Like Austin Powers with a better dental plan, Alfie -- especially as played by Jude Law in the remake of the 1966 classic -- just wasn't made for these times.


Jude Law in "Alfie": The remake of the 1966 film updates the time but not the character. (David Apple -- AP)

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But that hasn't stopped writer-director Charles Shyer -- who has helmed such complex examinations of male-female relations as "Father of the Bride" and "Father of the Bride II" -- from resuscitating the heat-seeking bachelor and sending him into today's singles scene without a hint of "Yeah, baby!" irony.

The new "Alfie" is an occasionally amusing, technically lovely but ultimately dated retelling of what was once a sly, chilly indictment of Swinging London during the '60s (not to mention a Best Picture nominee). Michael Caine played the lead in the original with a subtle, villainous panache, preying on helpless "birds" who had all the independence of jiggly Bond girls. He slowly developed an inner life -- a post-romp conscience, if you will -- but even at the movie's end, when he realized he had no "peace of mind" and famously wondered "What's it all about?" you still weren't sure if he was really getting it.

In the remake, Shyer has jumped the pond, moving Alfie's wine-and-women wasteland to Manhattan. But that's just about all that has changed. With nary an acknowledgment that the past 40 years have happened -- women's lib? STDs? "Maude"?! -- the plot suspiciously remains the same: Alfie seduces a married woman and a single mom, he becomes an unlikely father, he takes a tear-streaked someone to an abortion clinic. And his conquests, despite his obviously shallow, misogynistic intentions, still sacrifice great chunks of their hearts to be with him. At one point, a woman at a nightclub calls him "Eurotrash," but after Alfie flashes nothing more than a mischievous grin, she melts and invites him back to her place. The movie feels like it comes from a different cinematic time -- perhaps the '80s, when women were little more than hubba-hubba punch lines for the "Porky's" gang.

Like Caine's Alfie, Law's promiscuous chick magnet spends much of his time smirking through the fourth wall and speaking directly to the camera -- even in the midst of saucy shenanigans in the back seat of the limo he drives for a living. He spouts such playboy wisdom as "When it comes to shagging birds, it's all about location, location, location" and "It doesn't do to become dependent on anyone in life." Caine was certainly a handsome rogue, but it was his icy, determined delivery during seduction that made you shudder and chuckle at once. Law's attempts at wooing are so overt and slimy, you wonder how any woman could fall for him -- let alone resist smashing his gorgeous mug with a frying pan. (2002's "About a Boy," starring Hugh Grant, did a much better job of breaking down the 21st-century male commitment-phobe.)

Alfie cuddles up with a variety of beautiful dupes, including a married woman (Jane Krakowski, in a limo), his best friend's girl (Nia Long, on a pool table), a single mother (Marisa Tomei, on the couch) and an emotionally unstable party girl (Law's real-life love Sienna Miller, in the limo, in bed, in the kitchen . . . ). Most of the actresses, capable talents all, aren't asked to do much more than look longingly at him and let out long "Oh, Alfie" sighs, even as he's breaking up with them. However, Susan Sarandon, who plays an older woman even more cutthroat than Alfie, scores a few points for female empowerment. Their naughty May-September scenes together are the only ones that generate genuine onscreen heat.

Shyer -- who cleverly uses all manner of split-screens, flashbacks and rewinds to keep things moving -- often shows Alfie walking past glowing billboards reading "Pursue" and "Desire" and "Search," mystical advice that the protagonist is too single-minded to see. It's a neat trick, but for some reason the director pretty much abandons that welcome bit of nuance in the movie's clumsy final act, when a repentant Alfie, hit with a steady string of bad news, has a sudden about-face. He cries, he screams, he pleads for forgiveness. What's it all about? Overacting, for one. Not to mention an unwelcome twist on the far more subtle original.

Mick Jagger, with help from ex-Eurythmic Dave Stewart, wrote and performed several original songs for the soundtrack, including "Old Habits Die Hard" and "Blind Leading the Blind," blue-eyed-soulful acknowledgments that bedroom politics have indeed changed. Jagger, rock-and-roll's very own Alfie, should know about these things. And Shyer should have listened to him.

Alfie (103 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for sexual situations, nudity and drug use.


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