A successful lothario knows how to mix a few drops of contempt in with his charm; it’s the source of his control. As the cad of a seducer in Alfie (1966), Michael Caine became a star by bringing that contempt out into the open. Speaking, with mock-confessional honesty, directly to the audience, he was prickly and funny, but in a cackling English way that withered into heartlessness. (He referred to more than one conquest as ”it.”) The film was breezy and devious, but with a lonely chill beneath its surface.
There’s nothing chilly about Jude Law, or about the new, lite, spangly-colored Alfie. Our titular lady-killer is still British, but he’s been transplanted to New York City, where he’s a limo driver who has his pick of an endless merry-go-round of babes. Early on, there’s a fanfare of Alfie riding on a Vespa, and Law, with his elfin grin and just-unkempt-enough-to-be-adorable copper hair, is served up as such a tasty treat of a man that every leggy beauty on the street casts a longing look his way. Is the director, Charles Shyer, tweaking Alfie’s narcissism, or is his style so glib and glancing that Alfie is truly meant to be the most desirable bachelor in Manhattan? It works out as the latter, and that’s a bit of a shame. The new Alfie is so irresistible that he hardly requires contempt. Without it, the movie is little more than a feature-length roll in the hay.
Given our more relaxed sexual era, Alfie scarcely needed to be as thorough a bastard as he was in the mid-’60s. But couldn’t we at least have seen him plying his seductive art? His erotic clout is treated as automatic, and with Law turning to the camera every three minutes to address the audience, the movie never quite settles into a present tense. It leapfrogs, like Alfie, from one pleasantly meaningless encounter to the next. There’s Jane Krakowski as the married stunner he beds in his limo, Marisa Tomei as the single mom he treats as a booty-call doormat, Nia Long as the girlfriend of his best friend (Omar Epps) — the sultry scene between Law and Long in an empty bar is the closest the film comes to a piquant moment — and Susan Sarandon as the cosmetics mogul who proves that fiftysomething is the new hot. The actresses are likable, but the film tosses them away as casually as Alfie does. Strangely, the one woman he tries to settle down with (Sienna Miller) is gorgeous in such a model-anonymous way that we’re not sure, given Alfie’s proclivities, why he bothers spending more than a weekend with her.
Jude Law would appear to have all the attributes of a movie star: looks, humor, rogue charm. Yet there’s one he could use more of — an anger that might ignite his smooth presence. Law makes self-satisfaction beguiling, and in an odd way that’s his, and the movie’s, limitation. We never feel in our bones that Alfie needs to change.