- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2004

As first played by Michael Caine in 1966, Alfie Elkins was a heat-seeking bachelor in swinging London. Today’s Alfie, played by everywhere-man Jude Law, is a heat-seeking bachelor in contemporary New York.

“Alfie,” then as now, tries to make a Hamlet out of a ladykiller. A young, religiously single man in his sexual prime who depends on no one and on whom no one depends, asks reflectively, “What’s it all about?”

Here’s an answer, Alf: Not you.

I know it’s a comedy and all, but there’s something culturally out of touch about a Manhattan-skyline-loving movie dwelling so tenaciously on one cad’s place in the cosmos.

There are those two missing towers, and the New York of Charles Shyer’s “Alfie” remake feels like a ‘90s New York, carefree and yet clinically self-obsessed. “Alfie” is a mammalian morality play that winks at you with naughty behavior and expects you to relate to the mammal’s inner goodness.

Still, it’s watchable and incredibly sexy. Mr. Law, his hair perfectly mussed, fills Mr. Caine’s shoes with perfect glamour.

As he narrates directly into the camera, a la Mr. Caine in the original, sometimes in mid-coitus, Mr. Law delivers, in that silky English accent of his, despicably funny bits of wisdom about the “superficial things that really matter” in life.

Basically, Alfie wants the right women for the right occasion and doesn’t care if they overlap; beyond that lies the great anachronism, marriage.

Marisa Tomei’s Julie is his sort-of-steady girlfriend. She’s dependable, if not quite ideally proportioned. But she has baggage: She’s a single mom, and, inconveniently, Alfie adores her son.

Nikki (Sienna Miller, making a sensational debut) is a timely holiday find, but Alfie invents deficiencies for her, too.

As a limo driver, he also has access to rich older women, such as the married Dorie (Jane Krakowski), who attaches to Alfie like a pitiable puppy, and the Upper East Side queen Liz (the well-aging, still-spiky Susan Sarandon), who matches her man in shallowness and duplicity.

Alfie’s one-night fling with the gal pal (Nia Long) of his limo-fleet colleague Marlon (Omar Epps), probably his only true friend, mechanically sets up the movie’s big conflict: an unplanned pregnancy.

In 1960s England, the subject of abortion was hot stuff. It’s hardly ho-hum today, but the filmmakers don’t invest more than minutes in it. Mr. Shyer and co-writer Elaine Pope move right along into Alfie’s dual scare over impotence and testicular cancer.

It’s nearly impossible to cry for our incorrigible ladykiller, and there’s no lack of prompting from Mr. Law’s dramatic fits (a car windshield is shattered with a flying fist) and an intrusive score from Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart. (Sax legend Sonny Rollins had the job in ‘66.)

Every breakdown, every moment of poignant self-doubt is oversold by emotional swells of strings that intimate the soundtrack’s single “Old Habits Die Hard.”

The original movie’s theme song, from Burt Bacharach and Hal David, finally turns up in the closing credits, yet another reminder of a movie uprooted from the past and transplanted into the wrong era.

**

TITLE: “Alfie”

RATING: R (Sexual content, some profanity, drug use)

CREDITS: Directed by Charles Shyer. Produced by Elaine Pope and Mr. Shyer. Written by Miss Pope and Mr. Shyer, based on screenplay by Bill Naughton. Cinematography by Ashley Rowe. Original music by Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart.

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes.

WEB SITE: www.alfiemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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