The world of the Casanova has changed a tad since the original Alfie, featuring Michael Caine in the title role, came out in 1966. Feminism and AIDS have definitely taken the luster off the image of the freewheeling, free-banging swinger whose only care in the world is the right lighting in his “bachelor pads” and the appropriately worded send-off to keep the freshly bagged from returning with hopes of a “relationship.” Yes, some things have changed. But the charm and deceptively deep morality of director Charles Shyer’s remake is that guys like Alfie, this time played with a perfect balance of swagger and clumsiness by Jude Law, will always be around. To those who have made a science of seduction, the guys with notches on their headboards and black books stuffed with digits for every kind of chick for every kind of occasion — to them, the game may be a little harder, but the game does still exist. As do the broken hearts, the broken dreams, and the painful loneliness that precedes and follows the chase. Alfie not only nails the excitement of the capture, it also explores the wreckage that ensues with mature and wizened eyes.
Just like an overly cologned blowhard sitting next to you at a bar, Alfie addresses the audience directly in a nonstop monologue, revealing all the tricks of the trade in his witty, deluded riffs. It’s an extremely effective technique, showing his humor and warmth with the nastier elements of his personality. Alfie drives a limousine in New York City, an occupation that gets him close to lonely, rich women with a lot of time on their hands. These would include Dorie (Jane Krakowski), whose first appearance on screen involves getting banged in the back of Alfie’s limo. Dorie also appears at the end of Alfie, a fitting bookend to all the repercussions that befall our hero during the rest of the film.
The next booty call is with Julie (Marisa Tomei), a down-to-earth single mother, who despite her good judgment and motherly instincts allows Alfie a place in her and her son’s lives. She also believes she means more to Alfie than a place to crash and some home-cooked chili. She then finds out what she really means to Alfie when she discovers an unmentionable in her kitchen trashcan. Julie represents a down-home existence. Alfie moves on.
His next mission is to go to bat for his buddy Marlon (Omar Epps), who is trying to smooth things over with his angry girlfriend Lonette (Nia Long), a bartender. Alfie smoothes things over all right, and the consequences haunt him, Marlon and Lonette for the rest of the film. Alfie doesn’t let this — or the fact that he feels something “kooky” on his lovestick — keep him from moving on to the next challenge, the carefree Nikki (Sienna Miller). Again, Alfie can only take this relationship so far, before the inevitable “speech” and the inevitable pain he dispenses like the smooth, shallow, glibness that gets him through the day.
Alfie finally meets his match in Liz (Susan Sarandon). Yes, she’s wealthy. Yes, she enjoys a roll in the hay with younger men. But she doesn’t need him. Another seemingly obvious wake-up call to Alfie, but will he heed the message?
Alfie is energized by a powerfully effective soundtrack featuring some originals by Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart, as well as some older material, a sort of bridge back to the 1960s setting of the original. The pace is fast and funny in gorgeously filmed Big Apple locations, but it also has a heart, brains and a moral that will stubbornly stay with you after it’s all over.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].