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In updated 'Alfie,' it's all about vanity

This week's Jude Law movie is ''Alfie." For those of you keeping score, that's three down and three to go before the holidays, although it's a steep task to consider ''Alfie" anything other than a Vanity Fair pictorial. And that's not because the man who runs the magazine has been given a part in the movie as an adulterous gasbag, either.

''Alfie" manages to be a ditsy portrait of a happy-go-lucky bachelor. The movie has only flattering things to say and is driven by images of Law looking never less than scrumptious. He's not the only fabulous one. The closing credits come with still black-and-white photographs of the cast and crew having an annoyingly good time.

We see Alfie score with such beauties as Jane Krakowski and Marisa Tomei, Nia Long and Susan Sarandon. No one can resist him. Under Charles Shyer's direction, everything in ''Alfie" glows -- often radioactively, at least where Shyer's story or his dialogue is concerned. The cinematography (by Ashley Rowe) makes some things, like Nia Long's brown skin, look like blue velvet and others look as if you're seeing them through a champagne flute.

This is a remake of the judgmental 1966 romp with Michael Caine as a ''bird"-chasing dog. Shyer's version is a thing of infinite emptiness and nauseating vanity. It's not funny, alluring, affecting, or erotic, just conceited.

Law's Alfie is an upwardly mobile Manhattan chauffeur who wants to start his own limo company with his best friend, Marlon, played by Omar Epps, a handsome man who's never allowed to be as blithe or sartorially inspired as his costar. Alfie rides around the city on his Vespa and turns to the camera to explain to us what he's doing, how he's feeling, and whom he'll chase next.

Not even a bout of erectile dysfunction can soothe his addiction to women. When the unsinkably horny Alfie finds out he's not going to die of a venereal disease (a miracle, frankly), he pulls a Gene Kelly and spins around on a pole, stomps in a puddle, and dances up the street. The revelation that one of his conquests plans to have an abortion dampens his elation -- or so you'd think. Sure, he mopes around Manhattan for a scene or two, but it won't be long until he's sniffing around the heels of a fresh conquest. I like Jude Law, but in all my memories of this movie, Alfie is played by Pepe Le Pew.

He loves up a married woman (Krakowski), a single mom (Tomei), his best friend's girl (Long), a party monster (Sienna Miller), and a decadent cosmetics empress (Sarandon). They're not women, they're subway stops. And the film is decapitated from reality. It alleges to traffic in such real-world experiences as loneliness, lust, and backstabbing, but it treats them as though they were ingredients for a martini. Who needs this when there are further dispatches from Bridget Jones's diary coming?

Alfie is the fellow some American men once longed to be: seductive, well-groomed, English-accented. And Shyer's movie is just a miscued celebration of bachelor pomp. Its other stabs at hipness are dreadful: Mick Jagger and Eurythmic Dave Stewart wrote the mewling soundtrack, and English soul-thang Joss Stone manhandles the theme song.

Further attempts to be progressive are backhanded and embarrassing, too. Law and Long have sex on a pool table while the Isley Brothers play in the background. (It's a groovy 007-ish moment.) But later when one of Alfie's neighbors sees Long on his stoop, she congratulates him, saying ''How nice of you to date an African-American!"

Shyer tries his hand at the grown-up hassles in the original, but it's hard to take the movie's preening seriously. This Alfie's greatest concerns amount to which Paul Smith jacket to wear with which Prada loafers. This is the first movie to address the needs of straight men who love women but love their hair even more. The tagline asks, ''What's it all about?" The answer is easy: Metrosexuals.

What this remake is missing -- well, the most crucial thing -- is the pain of the original. Caine's skirt-chaser was wounded by the end. He was needy and pathologically afraid of solitude and being disliked. Shyer doesn't afford Law the same vulnerable insecurities. The camera was a window for Caine; with Law, it's a mirror.

Teamed with his ex-wife Nancy Meyers, Shyer cranked out a string of shallow gender comedies -- ''Baby Boom" and the ''Father of the Bride" remakes -- that were hits in the '80s and early '90s. A few years ago, he and Meyers split up. She went on to make wrongheaded, market-driven pablum like ''What Women Want" and ''Something's Gotta Give." ''Alfie" confirms that in the divorce they got joint custody of foolishness.

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