That’s a lesson Alfie should’ve learned long ago – back in 1966, to be precise, when Michael Caine first played the breaker-of-hearts and man-about-town. Jude Law is the callous Lothario (now relocated to Manhattan) in this remake of Alfie, which got short shrift in the US last year – leading to the theory, propounded in some quarters, that newly-puritanical America couldn’t stomach a man who takes sex so casually.

 The theory doesn’t hold water, if only because this Alfie is so much more sympathetic than his 60s forebear. Partly, it’s casting: Caine had (and has) the hooded eyes and steely, flat delivery of a man who’ll use others any way he can without compunction; Law is smarmier and more endearing, with metrosexual tendencies (he wears pink shirts, and douses himself with cologne). More importantly, though, the film protects its hero at every turn.

 For one thing, Alfie doesn’t leave women – they dump him, for the most part, whether it’s Marisa Tomei as the single mum he takes for granted till she shows him the door or Susan Sarandon as the older woman who throws him over for someone younger (oh, the humiliation!). Even when he does break off a relationship – with the wild young thing played by Law’s real-life squeeze, Sienna Miller – it’s softened by poignant music and the fact that she totally understands his decision – and he still feels remorse afterwards! Later, he anguishes when he learns another ex-girlfriend secretly had his child despite telling him she was having an abortion: “Another kid you’ll never get a chance to know – your own!” he tells himself, coming over all paternal. The famous sign-off line – “What’s it all about?” – was a sting in the tail back in 1966; here, it’s just more rumination from Alfie the Sensitive Stud.

 It may seem strange to criticise a film for not being cruel enough, but in fact, once you soften the main character, there’s not much left in Alfie except a jolly jaunt in nice locations. Director Charles Shyer (of Father of the Bride infamy) has an off-putting style, all pointless flash and Manhattan montages – and the film isn’t even sexy, Miller’s memorable topless scene (mercilessly slicing up a phallic courgette) providing the only glimpse of flesh. The worst innovation is a spry older citizen Alfie meets in a men’s room – himself in 40 years’ time, it’s implied – who gives sage advice at opportune moments: “Next time think before unzipping,” he admonishes when Alfie gets in trouble. This is the film that was too immoral for America?

 Alfie is essentially pointless, because times have changed. The original may seem dated (to some) but it’s also a perfect snapshot of its time – the predatory male in an age when the Pill had changed sex but not (yet) transformed sexist attitudes. Nowadays, women are too independent for the predatory male to make much headway, so the only worthwhile remake would be one that showed the folly of Alfie-dom in 2005. Instead we get the same man-about-town gallivanting, softened into blah romantic comedy. Still, you have to smile when Law shows us Alfie’s favourite position – leaning back with his arms behind his head, letting the woman do all the heavy thrusting. Laid-back charm goes a long way in movies.