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Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Why pamper this life's complexities?


Rating: * * * (out of 5)
Director: Charles Shyer
Running time: 103 minutes
Language: English
Opens July 9
[See Japan Times movie listings]

If "Alfie" was a wardrobe ensemble, it would be a dress from Balenciaga, shoes from Prada and a smallish, elegant handbag from Louis Vuitton (designed by Takashi Murakami, of course) -- flawlessly hip, just a tiny bit overdressed (but in a nice way) and fit for a late afternoon party thrown by . . . Chloe Sevigney's really close friend who runs these terribly chic galleries in SoHo or something.

News photo
Jude Law in "Alfie"

If you're the type of person who looks spanking great in such an outfit, and frequents late-afternoon parties, then look no further than "Alfie" for a satisfying cinema experience.

"Alfie" is all show and swank and smirking, sardonic one-liners. It's the kind of movie that if Oscar Wilde was around today it would make him bite the corner of his silk hankie (from Harrods) green with envy. And oh, the gorgeous lighting, the clever framing, the attention to little sensual details! Above all, the monumental G.L.F. (Good Looks Factor) of the cast!

In "Alfie," (apart from rare exceptions), everyone looks like they just emerged from 20 intensive weeks in a resort spa followed by a marathon boutique shopping session. Even when they're weeping or pining or flying into a rage, they remain breathtakingly attractive.

The flick is a remake of the 1966 movie starring Michael Caine in the title role: A London limo driver with a rollicking Cockney humor and accent to go with it, whose joy in life was bedding as many women as he could. Alfie's specialty was to give advice on womanizing straight to the camera as his oblivious conquests hovered in the background. Occasionally the tip-offs changed into wistful self-doubt, as expressed in that famous line: "What's it all about?"

The new Alfie is pretty much the same, only this time he's played by Jude Law and the backdrop is Manhattan, "where the most beautiful women in the world come to live," he assures us, before zipping off on his cute Vespa and having "a spot o' tea" at a sidewalk cafe. Sitting back with that melting little smile, he inspects anything that walks by in a short skirt ("When it comes to women, men look for the F.B.B. -- Face, Boobs, Bum"). And almost always, the owner of those skirts smile back.

Alfie loves designer clothes and has all sorts of little rules about dressing up ("When spraying cologne, never do it from the neck up"). He also looks long and lovingly into his bathroom mirror and consults a word-a-day calendar for inspiration. ("Today's word: ostentatious!")

One minute he's having sex in the back of his limo with a leggy blonde (Jane Krakowski), who wears boots up to her thighs and hands him her underwear as a parting gift. After that, he's at the apartment of working single mom Julie (Marisa Tomei) for a nice meal and warm bed.

It's a convenient arrangement, until Julie finds a discarded pair of lacy undies in her kitchen trash can and kicks him out. Ooh, bad moment for Alfie. But he's already in pursuit of other delights: His best friend's fiancee, Lonette (Nia Long), who runs a bar downtown, or the glamorous Liz (Susan Sarandon), a 50-something CEO of a cosmetics company.

Still, Alfie has pangs of misgiving, especially when Lonette moves out of New York, Julie finds someone else, he goes through a temporary period of sexual malfunction and ends up all alone at Christmas. "What's it all about?" he asks no one in particular, but the question disintegrates into thin air with the appearance of Nikki (Sienna Miller), whom Alfie describes as a "genuine show stopper" and subsequently becomes the first woman ever to share his apartment. (In real life Miller and Law got engaged after this.)

It's easy to see why Alfie (and Jude too) falls for Nikki like no one else -- Miller combines an engaging freshness with supermodel looks, and director Charles Shyer devotes a full eight minutes of screen time just showing montage clips of Nikki pouting, laughing, dancing, smoking, etc., in a series of snazzy outfits and different hairstyles. But after the first few delirious weeks Alfie gets the itch; once again he wants to be someplace else with someone completely new.

The original "Alfie" was an ode to the 1960s and Swinging London as personified by the Alfie of that period: Free sex was still a new and glittering notion, and to the audiences back then Alfie's escapades must have seemed enviable beyond words. For his version, Shyer deliberately coats the screen with a '60s sheen (the fashion, the heavy eye makeup, the hairdos, Alfie's apartment decor) and to cap it all off Mick Jagger and David Stewart penned an original song (appropriately titled, "Old Habits Die Hard") for the film. But despite all this, times have changed and in this post-AIDS/newly puritanical world of today, Alfie's pronouncements on women and life do seem a tad naive, and even juvenile.

We're jaded enough to have moved beyond the point of sex and relationships being the only things out there. Besides, Alfie's women seem to feel the same way, eventually. Times have changed, all right.

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