Jonathan Demme reminded us this year that remakes don't necessarily have to be pointless. He took a film as revered as Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate, reimagined it in a modern world with a different political climate, found some strong actors and put together a clever remake. The Italian Job and Ocean's Eleven, while not exactly trampling on hallowed originals, proved that remakes can be exciting and energetic. What these three films have in common is that they used something distinctive from our modern world: corporate irresponsibility, Cooper Mini's, and the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Then there's Gus Vant Sant's shot-by-shot remake of Psycho, a project that just screams "why?".
Now we have Alfie, a portrait of promiscuity from the 60s that defines the free love generation unlike any other. It likely won't top many all-time lists, but it's still a strong cultural identity film that reminds us of a nearly forgotten notion. Times have certainly changed, but I think there's some room for us to learn about ourselves through the experiences of Alfie. Only, like the projects I've already named, there need to be elements from today in order to give Alfie some social relevance. If any remake could work, Alfie could work. Unfortunately, while not a shot-by-shot remake, Alfie more closely resembles Psycho than the Manchurian Candidate. Not only does it do little to refresh the content, but it also commits the crime of seeming overlong (yet shorter than the original), and yes, boring.
Alfie is the third remake that Charles Shyer has been involved with. He wrote and directed Father of the Bride with Steve Martin, plus he wrote the screenplay for The Parent Trap. He's also responsible for Baby Boom, Irreconcilable Differences and I Love Trouble. With such a mediocre filmography, there's no better example of a good project being in the wrong hands. Only Alfie disappoints far more than these other failures, perhaps because it lacks the attitude of the original, thus seeming completely unnecessary.
Jude Law takes over the role that elevated Michael Caine to prominence. Law's Alfie is as much of a philanderer as Caine's, but he carries himself with a far smoother demeanor. Caine caustically shed himself of his women, while Law suavely travels from affair to affair. Both avoid commitment as they would a case of the crabs, and both speak directly to the camera to provide commentary on events as they take place. Law holds his own performance-wise, but his polished nature makes the commentary bland, and eventually tiresome. Caine's edge and creative tongue kept the viewer engaged, and he was credited with his first (of many) Academy Award nomination(s). Law will only be remembered by his adoring fanbase, but for how he looks rather than anything he says.
Enough of the comparisons. Alfie is a poor enough movie of its own right. If there's anything we should be thankful for, it's that a charismatic personality like Law was cast in the first place. Without his magnitude, the final product would be unwatchable, and I doubt it would warrant a theatrical release. Law salvages it as much as he can, but it's still destined for Shyer's signature mediocrity. The relationships all seem untextured, bland, with the female counterparts seeming better suited for a Romero flick. The photography, the acting, and even the Mick Jagger songs are all too mundane. After nearly two hours of monotony, there is no longer any concern for "what it's all about." A better question, after such a weak effort, is why would anyone care?
© Aaron West, 9th November, 2004
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