Movies that are remakes, especially remakes of sentimental favorites, are always held to different standards than other new releases. Everyone must wring their hands over whether the director showed adequate respect for the original material, whether he improved upon it, whether the stars match up, whether it should have been made in the first place.
Try to suspend that kind of thinking when you go to see The Truth About Charlie which, while not a perfect or great film, is a fresh, practically giddy romantic-comedy thriller, directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia), that just happens to be a remake of the 1963 Stanley Donen film Charade starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.
Don't even think about star power -- it's hard to imagine a pair that could knock Grant and Hepburn out of the water -- but allow yourself to swoon in the presence of Thandie Newton whose screen presence is playful, elegant, refined and natural. She plays Regina Lambert, a beautiful young Paris socialite who returns home from a Caribbean vacation and discovers that her husband Charles has been murdered and apparently was hiding a multi-million dollar treasure that several others are laying claim to.
Enter a fresh-faced American, Joshua Peters (Mark Wahlberg), who appears magically at Regina's doorstep every time she is in distress. She's only slightly suspicious -- foolish girl! -- and soon comes to discover that Peters is not who he says he is, but then, neither is the tall American government agent played by Tim Robbins who claims to want to protect Regina. Add a trio of multiracial ex-special ops agents who also want Charles Lambert's missing fortune and you've got the basic cat-and-mouse plot of Charade, minus its many twists and identity changes.
Demme allows the plot to meander and weave, but what the film lacks in plotting, it more than makes up for in fresh cinematic imagery, adoration of Paris, musical fascination and just plain joie de vivre. The director treats extras on the street as mini-portraits, allowing the camera to linger long enough to bring a whole, fascinating face into focus. And he uses The Truth About Charlie to pay tribute to French new-wave cinema of the 1960s, using cameos of actors from that period in full-glam perspective.
The playfulness of Demme's treatment comes to fruition in a central nightclub scene where all the players are involved in a wild tango to the tune of "Tango of Deception," penned by Rachel Portman and sung by Jean-Luc Godard leading lady Anna Karina. It's wild and seductive, a wonderful scene that sets the movie spinning.
Wahlberg has the great misfortune of being miscast as the leading man. He looks too young and vacant to flesh out such a complex character. But Newton carries him along and their on-again, off-again romance -- set to the tunes of French singer Charles Aznavour, playing himself here -- actually works.
The Truth About Charlie is a romp, a Parisian holiday, a bright hour and a half in a darkened theater. Regardless of how you feel about Charade and remakes, it's worth a whirl.
-- Kathryn Eastburn