For Paramount, 2004 turned out to be a pretty bad year for the studio when it came to remakes, churning out pretty much uninspiring modern versions of "The Stepford Wives", "The Manchurian Candidate" and "Alfie" to tepid box-office responses from moviegoers. What possessed Paramount to sign off on so many remakes in a single year is anybody's guess but the gamble certainly did not pay off in a big way as the studio had initially hoped. In fact, all three movies lost money at the box-office.
Alfie, Alfie, Alfie.
From the original 1966 screenplay and subsequent play by Bill Naughton, "Alfie" gets a makeover courtesy of Elaine Pope (writer for "Seinfeld" and "Murphy Brown") and this new film's director Charles Shyer ("Father of the Bride"). The original British production of "Alfie" was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Michael Caine. Although he lost the Oscar to Paul Scofield that year, Caine's movie career received a major boost post-Alfie and took off after that. The same, however, cannot be said about Jude Law, who reprises Caine's role in this modern remake of "Alfie". Not that Law needed the boost in the first place. 2004 was a busy but uneven year for Law, with performances that ranged from dismal in "Sky Captain" to indifferent in "Closer", in a film where Clive Owen largely overshadowed him.
"Alfie" did put the spotlight squarely back on Law, as he was basically tasked with carrying most of the film on his slight but more than capable frame. And therein lies "Alfie"'s biggest problem. With the main character, Alfie, being the ultimate center of attention in this film, it puts the onus on Law to deliver a performance that literally makes or breaks the film. For the most part, Law delivers but the burden subsequently fell squarely on the rather weak script, which sorely lacked the depth and the ability to cajole the audience into caring about any of the characters. It is also a shame that the largely female supporting cast--made up of illustrious and accomplished actresses like Susan Sarandon and Marisa Tomei--end up being left by the wayside, twiddling their thumbs.
Like the "Alfie" of old, this latest incarnation of "Alfie" tells the same story of a permissive British womanizer, only now he is transplanted and lives in Manhattan, which, according to our charmer, is the world's capital for beautiful women. Living without any hint of guilt or regrets on how he treats all the women he beds, Alfie transitions from one woman to another with relative ease. However, Alfie is not the millionaire playboy that everyone usually associates with such a promiscuous and carefree lifestyle. Instead, he is just a working Joe who drives a limousine for a living. Putting his immense charm and presumably, his sexy British accent to good use, Alfie is a regular Casanova and Manhattan is his fertile hunting ground. For him, women are just playthings that he can discard when he gets bored or finds the next hottie. Typically, he harbors not an ounce of emotional attachment to any of them, even though most of the women may think the world of him. Alfie's list of conquests includes Dorie (Jane Krakowski), a lonely wife with a knockout body, Julie (Marisa Tomei), a beautiful single mom who craves for a stable relationship, Nikki (Sienna Miller), a hard-drinking party girl and Liz (Susan Sarandon), the rich, older woman in his life. The other people who live within Alfie's midst include his best friend, Marlon (Omar Epps) and Marlon's girlfriend, Lonette (Nia Long).
"Alfie" delivers a familiar, if not boring tale of an unscrupulous womanizer, who only much later, after suffering through a few life-changing setbacks, finally discovers that the previous relationships he had with these women have unwittingly left an indelible mark in his hedonistic life. Alfie's days of having fun without the added responsibilities of a commitment takes a dramatic turn when, in a moment of weakness, he seduces a woman whom he knows to be strictly off-limits. Obviously, the realization comes much too late and after that one encounter, everything about his freewheeling life is never the same again. Traveling down the path to self-realization, Alfie has to make hard choices that may or may not lead to his reform but somehow, he can't seem to catch a break. Maybe it is just poetic justice for a man who used to, in his own words, "subscribe more to the European philosophy of life," with his priorities, "leaning towards wine, women and...well, that's about it." Never one to settle for the companionship of just one woman, Alfie finally gains a new perspective of life, learning it the hard way.
In this day and age, the question of sexual promiscuity should never be taken lightly. Back in 1966, the original "Alfie" took full advantage of the swinging decade that was the ‘60s, more or less trivializing an already accepted lifestyle. It may have been OK then but after the AIDS scare of the ‘80s and ‘90s, the idea of a man sleeping around without a care in the world is not only scary but also a dangerous one to perpetuate.
It may not seem like it at first but "Alfie" actually falls into the dramatic genre more than the romantic-comedy one. There are instances when a comedic angle to the story is tackled but for the most part, they could hardly elicit any kinds of laughter from me. When the only scene that's worth a laugh comes from a throwaway character that only had less than 5 minutes of screen time, you know the film is in trouble. Worse, the rest of the story is all too predictable and mostly uninspiring, not at all helped by its surprisingly dark and all too serious tone.
For the most part, the anamorphic widescreen presentation, measuring 1.85:1, gets the job done. It does, however, suffer from noticeable grain that I did not come to expect from such a recent film. This could be caused by trying to cram too much information into a single DVD. "Alfie" does not inspire a large color palette, sticking to repeating various shades of the same set of colors throughout the film. Subtitle options include English and Spanish.
Again, the audio presentation on this DVD is much like the video one: it gets the job done. Not that there are any big jobs that needed to be tackled in the first place. The most important aspect of the English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is of course, the dialogue, and that portion comes through clear and precise. Accompanying the dialogue at the front is the music and that too is reproduced without much effort. The surround channels are set aside for environmental sounds and the occasional music. Other audio options are English Dolby Surround 2.0 and French Dolby Digital 5.1.
I admit that I was surprised when I saw the large amount of bonus material Paramount has chosen to bestow on this less-than-successful film (all of it plus the entire movie on a single disc). The reason for this is probably to try and recoup some of the movie's cost from home DVD sales and rentals.
Starting off, there are two audio commentaries, one by director by Charles Shyer and editor Padraic McKinley and the other by Shyer (again) and producer/co-writer Elaine Pope. The first one focuses on the filming and editing process while the other explores the writers' motivations surrounding the story and how it needs to translate to the current era. Both are pretty much run-of-the-mill commentaries that provide plenty of anecdotal stories about the making of the film and self-praise.
Next is a feature called "Round Table of Alfie" with participation by Shyer, McKinley, cinematographer Ashley Rowe and production designer Sophie Becher. It was surprising to hear from these guys that "Alfie", although set in New York City was actually shot mainly in England. Shyer leads the discussion by posing questions to the other three crew members and they talk mostly about how they envisioned the sets and their approaches to filming.
"The World of Alfie" is a 10-minute documentary that features Shyer, Pope and Law, as they talk about updating the main character and how the ending was changed from the original film. The nest one, "The Women of Alfie", has Shyer, Pope, Law, Susan Sarandon, Marisa Tomei, Jane Krakowski, Sienna Miller, Nia Long and Omar Epps discuss about how this film updates the roles of the female characters by comparing it to the original.
For the next feature titled "Deconstruction of a Scene", film editor Padraic McKinley brings us through the film's opening sequence, talking about some of the challenges of shooting and even showing us a few of the deleted bits. Up next is a gag reel called "Gedde Watanabe Dance Footage", featuring actor Gedde Watanabe as he breaks into a funny dance routine. This segment comes with optional commentary by Shyer and Pope.
In "Let the Music In", the various musical tracks from the film is discussed through interviews with Shyer, musicians Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart, Yolanda Charles, Mike Rowe, Ali McErlaine and Chris Sharrock. Next is "Deleted Scenes", which features eight excised scenes that come with optional commentary by Shyer and McKinley.
The next three features are made up of still photographs that can be perused by using the arrow buttons on your DVD remote. "Script Gallery" and "Storyboard Gallery" contains the same 6 segments: "Meet Alfie", "Dressing the Part", "Backseat Driver", "Seeing Red", "Word Around Town" and "Doomed Relationship". The only difference between the two is that "Script Gallery" shows you the actual text of the film's script while the other shows you the storyboard drawings. The third part of this trio is "Production Gallery", which is a set of behind-the-scenes photos taken during filming.
Finally, we have the "Theatrical Trailer" for "Alfie".
"Alfie" comes in a regular keepcase in different and separate widescreen and fullscreen versions.
The only upside to "Alfie" is that Jude Law met his current fiancé, actress/model Sienna Miller during filming. Other than that, it is a forgettable remake that shouldn't have been remade in the first place.