The Truth About Charlie Movie Review

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Perhaps it's not fair to begin a movie review by comparing a remake to its original, but since director Jonathan Demme has been proudly trumpeting "The Truth About Charlie" as a reimagining of Stanley Doden's 1963 romantic thriller "Charade," he's practically asking for it.

What the films have in common is a plot centering on a beautiful young woman named Regina (Audrey Hepburn then, Thandie Newton now) who returns to Paris from vacation to discover her husband has stripped their stylish apartment bare, disappeared with a fortune she didn't know he had, and subsequently turned up dead. With the money still missing, dangerous strangers start coming out of the woodwork, convinced she knows where it is.

In "Charade," Hepburn's sprightly Regina meets the suave and cunning -- perhaps a little too cunning -- Peter Joshua, played by Cary Grant, and falls for him as he tries to keep her safe and help her solve the mystery of the absconded riches. In "Charlie," Newton's clever but ingenuous Regina meets gym-buffed paramour Joshua Peters, played by Mark Wahlberg, who may look classy in a '60s-homage pokepie hat, but as a character he's dry, dry, dry.

The fact that Demme doesn't seem to realize this, painting his remake's romance as a witty affair when only one of them is blessed with much wit, is the elephant in the corner of the screen throughout what is otherwise a jaunty, mostly enjoyable thriller.

Newton (who played the title role in Demme's ill-starred mythical slave epic "Beloved") is terrific as a beguiling turtledove with a trusting nature, suddenly immersed in intrigue, artifice and collusion. She makes you adore Regina for being naive enough to believe, however briefly, just about anything she's told by any of the players in this entangled enigma.

She allows herself to be seduced by Joshua (she seems to be thinking, why give up the fling with the hunk?) even after she's told he's deceiving her by both an American spy (Tim Robbins in an incisively campy performance) and by one of four quirky (too quirky) ex-military miscreants that have been breathing down her neck looking for the money. None of these men are what they seem either, and their involvement begins to reveal to Regina just how little she knew about her husband Charlie (Stephen Dillane), whom she married only a few months before.

Demme balances the picture's thriller elements, romantic elements and curiously mirthful elements quite nimbly. Although his amalgam of French New Wave, big-budget Hollywood and other cinematic styles never quite gels, the director is nothing if not imaginative, be it visually (the cinematography is sumptuous), narratively (characters partake in "what if" flash-forwards), musically (reggae, Arabic pop and abstract jazz are a perfect fit on the soundtrack) or conceptually (New Wave icon Charles Aznavour has a cameo as himself, reprising a famous song from Francois Truffaut's "Shoot the Piano Player").

But in addition to the miscasting of Wahlberg -- whose single-expression good looks don't have the pliancy to seem discernibly trustworthy, deceitful or cryptic -- "The Truth About Charlie" also suffers from a poorly realized climax. The final pieces of the Charlie puzzle don't come in a startling revelation or realization, but in a plodding piece of prolonged, unwieldy dialogue, which is followed a little too late to save the momentum by a frantic chase and standoff.

In many ways Jonathan Demme succeeds in his stated goal of creating a deliberately divergent remake that doesn't invoke the spectre of "Charade." But while "Charlie" has some charm and style, and a much more stimulating title, it also fails to invoke the alchemy or the acumen of its inspiration.

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The Truth About Charlie Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG-13, Opened: Friday, October 25, 2002

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