Cad v. Dad

Alfie

reviewed by Steve Sailer

The American Conservative, November 22, 2004

 

The Sixties didn't happen until the Seventies in the movie business (because studios never trust anybody under 30 to make expensive features), so film critics have tended to disregard that decade, but I prefer the unhipness of Sixties movies, made by a hardier, less self-indulgent generation, to the self-indulgence of Seventies movies.

Lately, the industry has been demonstrating the sincerest form of flattery by remaking a raft of Sixties films, such as "The Manchurian Candidate," "The Alamo," "Planet of the Apes," and "The In-Laws" -- with almost uniformly dire results.

This genre's only success was last year's nifty updating of the Michael Caine heist flick "The Italian Job," so it was predictable that Caine's trademark film, the 1966 comedy-drama "Alfie" about a womanizing Cockney chauffeur, would be redone. As Colby Cosh has noted, Hollywood believes that "The public adores the familiar, even if all they know is that it should be familiar," and anybody who has ever set foot in a piano bar has that catchy Bacharach-David line "What's it all about, Alfie?" tattooed to their gray matter.

Jude Law, the cute young Englishman who is in six movies this autumn, replaces Caine as the cad who slowly learns he should have acted like a dad, but incompatibilities quickly surface. Caine was 33, a Korean combat veteran, 6'-2," and every inch a man. With his bulging Adam's apple and pop eyes, Caine's Alfie was a tad funny-looking but his cast-iron confidence made him irresistible. In Alfie's many asides spoken directly to the camera, Caine's rather flat affect was ultimately less tiresome than Law's attempts to charm and seduce. In short, Caine addressed the men in the audience, Law the women.

Law is 31, but he seems callow in comparison, which squanders the purportedly devastating blow to Alfie's pride at the end. In the original, when Alfie called on a wealthy and salacious widow (Shelly Winters) with whom he has been dallying, he found a longhaired electric guitarist in her bed. Caine's Alfie, an old-fashioned beer-and-skittles bloke who wouldn't know The Who from Carnaby Street, plaintively asked, "What's he got that I don't?" She replied, "He's younger than you, Alfie." That line seems absurd, though, when Susan Sarandon drops it on the dewy-cheeked Law. Worse, the famous generation gap that might have excited a jaded matron in 1966 hardly exists anymore.

Stylistically, the new version can't seem to make up its mind whether it's set in the Swinging London of 1966 or the Manhattan of 2004. Girls in go-go boots with ironed-straight blonde hair and kohl-rimmed eyes chat on cell phones. To add to the nostalgic confusion, Mick Jagger was hired to write the score. Mick keeps alive his streak of not having penned a good song since "Start Me Up" in 1981.

Changes in the script mostly dissipate the elemental power of the original. The cad vs. dad distinction (first named by anthropologist Henry Harpending in 1982) had been underlined by the first version's subplot where Alfie's stand-by girlfriend, whom he won't marry or support even though she'd given him a beloved son, wedded an unsexy bus conductor because he'd promised to provide for her little boy. Two years later, a despondent Alfie chanced upon the now-happy family at the christening of their second child.

But Law's Alfie isn't even the father of Marisa Tomei's little boy, and when she eventually dumps him, it's for a guy who is so cool-looking that he could be the bass-player for The Strokes.

Even worse is the loss of the famous climax that shattered, at least temporarily, Alfie's regal self-assurance. After he'd impregnated a sick friend's wife, he hired an illegal abortionist to induce her to deliver a stillbirth in his apartment. Returning home later, the camera focuses in on his trembling face as he found, we later learn, the dead body of his tiny but perfectly formed child.

Forty million legal abortions later, no Hollywood movie would dare drive home the reality of abortion so powerfully. So, Law's Alfie merely chauffeurs his pal's girlfriend to the clinic, where, predictably, she decides not to have the abortion. In today's films, almost nobody ever actually has an abortion. See, everybody in Hollywood is pro-choice, but being pro-choice isn't about having abortions, it's about, like, the abstractly metaphysical concept of, you know, choice.

Okay, sure, whatever but it makes for a forgettable movie.

Rated R for sexual content, some language and drug use.

***

Steve Sailer (www.iSteve.com) is a columnist for VDARE.com and the film critic for The American Conservative.

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