Attempting to catapult himself from critically lauded character
actor into the more lucrative realm of leading man, Jude Law makes
his third bid of the year for movie stardom in the comedy/drama
“Alfie.” While his previous films, “Sky
Captain” and “I  Huckabees,” were praised
for their originality and ingenuity, “Alfie” traipses
through remarkably well-trodden territory. Much like Law himself,
the film is both immensely charming and entirely forgettable.

Based on the 1966 original starring Michael Caine,
“Alfie” follows the titular limo driver (Law) on his
many sexual escapades around Manhattan. The film skirts romantic
comedy territory by not allowing Alfie to fall for the “one
girl” who convinces the beguiling lothario to change his
ways. Rather, through a series of more realistic events, Alfie
comes to see the emptiness of his lifestyle and the harm his
carelessness has caused the people around him.

By passing up the easy, crowd-pleasing version of the
all-too-familiar premise, the film is forced to abandon the typical
story arc in favor of an overly episodic approach. As a result the
whole second half of the movie feels recklessly unedited. But more
patient members of the audience, not to mention more than a few
female fans, will respect how much faith the story and director
Charles Shyer (“Father of the Bride”) put in the
audience’s intelligence. Real life, after all, rarely offers
up easy answers. And in that sense, Alfie’s numerous
missteps, such as trying to settle down with a manic party girl
(Sienna Miller, TV’s “Keen Eddie”) and a wealthy
older woman (Susan Sarandon), as well as the ambivalence with which
he accepts his changing lifestyle, provide for a more interesting
film.

But while “Alfie” feels refreshingly nonformulaic,
it also lacks the kind of novelty needed to leave an impression. To
a generation reared on “Grand Theft Auto” and
“Sex and the City,” the idea that someone would use sex
wantonly and exploitatively is seen not so much as a mild shocker
but as a fact of life. Traveling through such mundane territory as
though it were cutting-edge, the film’s core concept feels
irrelevant and highly outdated.

In fact, the only justification this otherwise unnecessary
remake has for its existence is a wonderful leading performance
from Law. He smirks, winks and defies any actor to pull off a
variety of scarves with so much panache. The truth is, no matter
how irritatingly overexposed he may be, Law is undisputedly a
talented actor. And though he excels at dramatic supporting
performances, he also has the requisite charisma to carry a breezy
leading role. Sarandon is also a bright spot, wonderfully sharp and
restrained as Alfie’s female foil.

“Alfie” is probably too low-profile a film to launch
Law into that upper echelon of movie stardom to which so many less
deserving actors have ascended. That’s really a shame because
the film is a star-making turn if ever there was one, asking Law
only to be good-looking, charming and bland — everything
America wants from its stars.

 

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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