While the official remake of “Alfie” proved an anachronistic try to revisit a badly flawed original, Kolton Lee’s “Cherps,” a brash indie debut from Blighty, is a fitting “Alfie” for these times. Narrating in direct address to the camera as he’s forced to re-assess his carefree single lifestyle over the span of seven days, Lee’s hero Reggie plays the field until reality hits him like cricket bat. Pic reps a lively new spin for black British cinema that could pick up quite a following with proper handling at fests and arthouses.
“Cherping,” according to intro graphic, is Brit slang for the art of picking up women, and Reggie (Clint Dyer) is an artist — or, at least, so he claims. Although he’s seen early on in bed with a gal and seems to have his moves down, Lee’s critical posture toward this updated Alfie shows him dealing with personal obstacles more than cherping. “I had a lovely little scene going on,” Reggie says, but g.f. Sandra (Kaye Bridgeman) is about to bring him down to earth.
He’s hesitant to tie the knot, and completely miscalculates by giving Sandra a token of his affections in the form of some red zip-up panties, which she appropriately tosses in his face. At an amusing and lengthy Sunday family dinner, Reggie is seen as something of a mama’s boy and preternaturally immature as he pushes 30. He’s stuck with a pot-smoking roomie and chided by his Nigerian boss Jonah (Felix Dexter, in one of three roles) for his slacker attitude as a record store assistant.
Unlike Alfie, though, Reggie isn’t a jerk who deserves a sorry fate, but an underdeveloped guy who senses he has untapped potential and is able to reflect upon his life after clashing with loved ones. Lee, not unlike the younger Spike Lee (“She’s Gotta Have It,” “Do the Right Thing”), has a knack for warming up to marginal young men who have a long way to go, an ear for the topics black folk talk about and an energetic way with camera and editing that easily engages viewers.
He also pulls a terrific performance out of Dyer, who gently bares Reggie’s myriad vulnerabilities and suggests his seductive powers without laying it on thick. Dexter has fun with a Peter Sellers-like turn, though his East Euro professor persona is so unrealized and barely amusing that pic would lose nothing with its deletion. As it is, Lee announced at Pan African fest that he plans some minor trims and fine-tuning, mostly in the currently rough sound mix. Song selections are fabulous and ultra-tasty, though obtaining clearances is pending and surely pricey.