Starring: Thandie Newton, Mark Wahlberg, Tim Robbins, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Charles Aznavour
Director: Jonathan Demme
Writing Credits: Jonathan Demme, Steve Schmidt, Peter Joshua, and Jessica Bendinger
Distributor: MCA/Universal (USA 2002)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and sexual content/nudity

No doubt about it: watching Jonathan Demme's captivating and frustrating Parisian ode, THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE, one realizes that, Yes, there's probably a great remake of Charade to be had. The entertaining story of a woman who finds herself enmeshed in her dead husband's mysterious affairs, played to whip-cream perfection by Audrey Hepburn in the original opposite Cary Grant, is as breezy and enjoyable a matinee as you're likely to find on Turner Classic Movies these days. Why not bring it back, cast it anew, and pump up the frenetic, jazzy pace of it?

Why not indeed. Charade had charm, charisma and chemistry on its side, which overcame the screenplay's notable gaps in logic and quality. But in THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE, Demme's well-intentioned retelling of Charade with Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton, the tenuous bonds that held the original together are gone, leaving us with a muddled, though engaging, mess. The story, always a bit too frothy and feather-light, is completely confused in tone: one minute a thriller, next a comedy, next a romance, next a mystery. Trying to make this film all of those things is just asking too much. It's a light tale. It needs a light touch.

Honesty check: I'm not a Demme fan (although his version of Toni Morrison's Beloved, which also starred Newton, remains in my mind as one of the most underrated films of the 1990's). Always an interesting conceptualist, the ideas behind THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE are far more fascinating than their execution proves to be. It's as if one can almost hear Demme's pitch to the studios: a fondly-remembered classic done up in retro-chic style, cranking up the tension and adding Hollywood star power (Wahlberg) and a under-the-radar starlet who's due for mass exposure (Newton). Throw in hand-held camera work and a few New Wave touches, and you've got, at the very least, A Real Something.

Ah, if only the pieces of this puzzle had added up that way. I love love love Thandie Newton, but as the hounded widow Regina Lambert, she seems surprisingly uncomfortable, unable to settle or focus in the role. (Perhaps that's because of the script, which asks her to erratically alternate between being angry at Wahlberg's deceits and trying to seduce him.)

And speaking of her scenes with Wahlberg, it's nearly a disaster. Despite being interesting actors individually, the two lamentably have zero chemistry together. Wahlberg, for his part, is nearly expressionless, apparently lost, adrift, and in over his head. It's his worst work in ages, and that's saying something. (Remember The Apes.) This role needs a Cary Grant, an actor with a light, deft touch -- Grant's forte -- and such stylistic complexity is simply beyond Wahlberg's talents.

You may have heard that THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE is an inventive homage to French New Wave. Don't believe the hype; often, it looks more like cheap imitation by people who didn't understand the genre. Much of the jerky, hand-held camera work missed the point, and ended up being little more than off-putting. Despite an unbelievable score by Rachel Portman and some wonderful design touches, THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE finds little of that elusive truth it was searching for. As the credits roll, you may wonder if you've just seen the Charade after all.

-- Gabriel Shanks

Review text copyright © 2002 Gabriel Shanks and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.

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