Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mark Wahlberg, Thandie Newton, Tim Robbins, Park Joong-Hoon, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Ted Levine, Charles Aznavour, Anna Karina, Agnes Varda
Written by: Jonathan Demme, Jessica Bendinger, "Peter Joshua" (a.k.a. Peter Stone) and Steve Schmidt
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and sexual content/nudity
Running Time: 104
Date: 10/16/2002

The Truth About Charlie (2002)

2 Stars (out of 4)

The Awful 'Truth'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Many people won't know the truth about Jonathan Demme's The Truth About Charlie. Opening today in Bay Area theaters, the new film is a remake of 1963's Charade, a great Hollywood entertainment.

Peter Stone's original screenplay perfectly combines romance, mystery and comedy with a genuinely surprising twist. Director Stanley Donen pieced everything together with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in the leads and a supporting cast to drool over: Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy and others.

All this, and it's set in Paris, too.

In the new film, Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton take on the Grant and Hepburn roles. Newton plays Regina Lampert, who's married to Charlie, who gets murdered in the opening minutes.

She quickly finds out from a cop, Bartholomew (Tim Robbins), that her husband's former partners (Park Joong-Hoon, Lisa Gay Hamilton and Ted Levine) are looking for money he stole. Presumably, the money is somewhere among Charlie's belongings that are now in Regina's possession.

Joshua Peters (Wahlberg) is the guy who comes to Regina's rescue.

It goes without saying that Grant and Hepburn clicked; they had chemistry to throw away. Here, Newton manages to fill the Hepburn bill quite nicely (something Julia Ormond didn't do in the remake of Sabrina.) Newton is sweet, tiny, exotic -- and regal. From the way he photographs her, it's clear that Demme's a little in love with her.

Wahlberg, on the other hand, is miscast, and as awful here as he was in Planet of the Apes. The method actor withdraws so deeply into himself, he forgets to react to the other characters. He looks as if he's in a different movie, or asleep. He can't even begin to compare to Grant, possibly the screen's greatest actor.

The similarly miscast Robbins plays the Matthau role as if he suddenly woke up there. Robbins probably made the mistake of watching the original and got intimidated by Matthau's one-of-a-kind jowly line readings. He even tries on a Matthau-like drawl, pronouncing "Mrs. Lampert" the way Matthau did, and he sounds ridiculous.

Demme copies the original plot, including the same bad guy and the same surprise twist. While he was filming in France, he got the idea to dedicate the movie to the great 1960s French New Wave films. So he cast Charles Aznavour (Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player), Anna Karina (Godard's Vivre sa vie) and director Agnes Varda (The Gleaners and I) in small roles and cameos.

The main problem with The Truth About Charlie is that the two elements simply don't mix. Charade, a product of the most mainstream factory filmmaking, depended on its crafty, tightly woven plot with hairpin turns. The French New Wave is characterized by loose, improvised stories based on intellectual rants and emotional reactions.

In other words, The Truth About Charlie can do nothing to stop the oil drifting apart from the water.

Demme's loose approach kills the suspense. The big twist, a mind-blowing moment in Donen's version, appears almost as an afterthought here (a minor character reveals the surprise).

Then Demme wraps things up with a stupid chase, a shootout and a standoff.

Sometimes it's fun to see a favorite movie remade. If it works, it can be a little like seeing a film for the first time. Demme started with the right idea; he appears to be having fun and not intimidated by the original material.

But The Truth About Charlie fails not because of the original. It fails all on its own.

DVD Details: Thankfully, Universal was good enough to include the original Charade as an extra on the Truth About Charlie DVD. Since the great Criterion disc is now out of print, this is the best available version of Charade in the U.S., so it's definitely worth the price.

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