by Mike Corrigan

The Truth About Charlie is billed as Jonathan Demme's homage to Stanley Donen's celebrated 1963 film, Charade (starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn), a romantic thriller in which no one is who they claim to be. Universal even went so far as to package this latter-day retelling with the original (on the flip side of the DVD), presumably with the intent of presenting both films as equal yet different treatments of the same theme. Unfortunately, this re-do can't quite do what the original did. In fact, it doesn't come close.

Demme's an able filmmaker, and his direction and cinematography here are outstanding. Paris, in particular, looks irresistible: lively, diverse, modern and beautiful. Thandie Newton is more than adequate as Regina Lambert, the befuddled wife of a recently murdered art dealer who suddenly discovers her husband led a cloak-and-dagger existence. Oh, and he cheated his former associates out of $6 million.

The film's greatest failure is in the casting of clunky Mark Wahlberg (the poor man's Matt Damon, as a friend of mine so astutely put it). Wahlberg plays Joshua Peters, man of mystery. Is he a knight in shining armor, or a cad who's only interested -- as are Newton's pursuers -- in the missing loot? The real mystery here, however, is how on earth an intelligent and sophisticated woman like Newton could fall so easily for Wahlberg when it's so obvious that he's up to something. His cloddish attempts to insinuate himself into her life would be considered highly suspect -- big fat red flags -- by anyone in even partial possession of their faculties. (His explanation of how he just happened to follow her at one point into danger had me screaming "stalker!"). Wahlberg is wooden, completely unconvincing and his French is awful (he does look hilarious running around in a beret, however). Additionally, you never buy into the romance between these two. as there is virtually no on-screen chemistry between them.

The supporting cast is good (though Tim Robbins' performance as a enigmatic U.S. embassy operative is pure camp), and there are numerous, somewhat puzzling references to French New Wave cinema throughout, not the least of which is Demme's hand-held camera work and all-out revisitations of scenes from Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player. Unfortunately, Demme seems to have forgotten that referencing great art is not the same as creating it.

Publication date: 05/01/03

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