(2004) ** R
103 min. Paramount Pictures. Director: Charles Shyer. Cast: Jude Law, Marisa Tomei, Omar Epps, Nia Long, Jane Krakowski.

As the now-metrosexual anti-hero Alfie, Jude Law exudes rascally charm and sex appeal. Undoubtedly, he's a worthy successor to Michael Caine, who swung through '60s London in Lewis Gilbert's film of Bill Naughton's play. Like Caine, Law's New York transplant talks directly into the camera, confiding his caddishness and betraying his foolish commitment issues. It's "The Rules" for single men, and the self-loving, hyperactive energy of the film's first act naturally spell disaster for "poor" Alfie. Charles Shyer's film is hardly disasterous, but is rather dramatically inept, never digging deep enough to be provocative for our time.

Shyer employs retro '60s chic and giant billboards spelling out the verbs of Alfie's psyche--PURSUE, DESIRE, SEARCH. Sometimes, this Alfie's obviousness works to humorous effect, but more often, the screenplay by Shyer and Elaine Pope is dopey (cue the cucumber-chopping scene!). Caine's Alfie was funny and moving because he was a wholly believable creation. Shyer hobbles Law with lines like "Julia hasn't got enough of the superficial things that really matter." Alfie's gaggle of beautiful birds—Marisa Tomei, Jane Krakowski, Nia Long, Sienna Miller, and Susan Sarandon—ably work over their parts, each—well, too superficial to be humane; as Alfie's best mate, Omar Epps proves once again that he should consider another career.

The film's message is summed up in the late-breaking friendship with an old man (obviously a part which Caine wisely turned down), who simply says, "Next time, think before unzipping." Despite clunking obstacles in this bounder's path, Alfie obviously loves its title character for learning to ask, "What's it all about?" But that question comes too late and too little for a character who we hate to love. Dylan Kidd's Roger Dodger dealt wisely with modern male dating and stuck to its guns; Alfie smacks its dog with a rolled-up newspaper and then feels guilty about it. This one has star power and nothing else, y'know what I mean?

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