The Truth About Charlie (2002)Rated PG-13 for some violence and sexual content/nudity.
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Thandie Newton, Tim Robbins, Christine Boisson, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Joong-Hoon Park, Ted Levine, Stephen Dillane.
LVJeff's Rating: 5/10
Photo ©Universal Pictures. All rights reserved.
Raining on the Charade
Comparing The Truth About Charlie to Charade -- the movie it is "re-imagining" -- wouldn't be fair. Charade was a light, brisk, romantic mystery starring two screen legends -- Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn -- who sparkled together in a beautiful, idealized Parisian backdrop. With director Stanley Donen's deft mix of comedy and suspense, the movie provided a perfect rendition of grand entertainment. Re-making this movie doesn't make much sense.
Jonathan Demme knows this, so he doesn't try to direct The Truth About Charlie as an updated copy. Instead, he wants to use Charade's plot as the basis for an homage to film history's French New Wave movement of the 1960's. It's appropriate, you see -- the French New Wave was blossoming at the same time Donen's Paris adventure was released. In any case, leaving behind thoughts of Grant, Hepburn, and Henry Mancini's memorable score would give Demme's new movie a chance to prove itself on its own terms.
Well, after watching The Truth About Charlie, I think it might have fared better had it actually tried to re-create Charade's magic. At least it would have had a goal or a focus. Instead, it's boring and meandering, as if it doesn't have a clue where it should go and what it should be.
It's a shame, too, since the cast and crew report a splendid time during the shoot. You would think that fun would have translated on film -- and it does in a few scenes here and there. Overall, however, the movie gave me the feeling that no one involved with the production cared if the end result was engaging or not. Hand-held close-up shots of the actors bob up and down and swirl around enough to make me feel car-sick. The movie's generally serious tone jarringly gives way to moments of absurdity. And most of the actors seem to share one bewildered expression that, thanks to a consistent stream of straight-on face shots, becomes more and more unwelcome over the course of the running time.
I think Demme was too busy grinning about the cameos he got from French New Wave notables, like Anna Karina and Agnes Varda, to notice the utter lack of connection between his leads Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton. Wahlberg may be noted more for the variety of hats he wears than for having any kind of screen presence -- his character reminds me of a loyal dog, trying to protect Newton's character, growling sometimes and otherwise looking puppy-eyed. Newton does her best to project energy despite her character having nothing to do other than to go where the plot-wheels spin her to. The biggest mistake, however, was Demme's decision to switch Charade's original direction of attraction. In that film, Hepburn was attracted to Grant but couldn't ever fully trust him, and the audience took part in her dilemma. In Charlie, Wahlberg is attracted to Newton, who only half-reciprocates the affection, but then this means Newton has no motivation stronger than her desire to escape her dangerous situation. Her character has no real stake in losing the male protagonist's companionship, so there's no bond for them to form, no romantic tension to be felt. Meanwhile, all Wahlberg can do is chase her around and look sad about it.
If no signs of life can be found among the main characters, at least Demme will always have Paris. The city is realistically portrayed -- I could feel the dirtiness in its urban streets, its hustling crowds, and its vivid nightlife -- a far cry from its usual movie idealizations. The overflowing use of world music in the soundtrack adds to the colorful flavor. Alas, having fun in Paris seemed to be the only item on Demme's itinerary -- using Charade's plot was only an excuse to shoot in the city, and the lackadaisical way the story is adhered to exemplifies this. However, with such a thin connection to its classic source, The Truth About Charlie has only itself to blame for being so mediocre.
©Jeffrey Chen, Oct. 25, 2002