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The Truth About Charlie

The Truth About Charlie

Total Film

June 2003

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Director Jonathan Demme
Starring Thandie Newton, Mark Wahlberg, Tim Robbins
Cert 12A

Rating **

Shouldn't Jonathan Demme have better things to do with his career than recycle fluff like Charade? You expect this sort of thing from jaded Hollywood hacks, not directors with Oscars - especially ones who work as sporadically as Demme does.

Stanley Donen's romantic thriller is no classic, but it coasted by on the skills of its top cast (Walter Matthau and James Coburn - in the same movie). It also had a tricksy storyline that kept you guessing about Cary Grant's motives for helping Parisian Audrey Hepburn after she returns from holiday to find one dead husband and a pack of stalkers asking her where the loot is. Oh yeah, and it yoked two screen legends who, individually, established a benchmark for star wattage that's been challenged by few and bettered by none.

So Demme must have realised he was hobbling before he started with a ball and chain around each ankle - stamped with the names Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton. The director's been a staunch believer in Newton's talent ever since he handpicked her to play Oprah Winfrey's ghost-child in 1998's Beloved, and the Londoner does bring an air of fragile, sultry elegance to proceedings. But the script strands her loaded layabout Regina Lambert in a Hepburnesque timewarp, framing her as an anachronistic ninnie whose bewilderment spurs thoughts of slapping rather than sympathy...

Wahlberg, on the other hand, is not just miscast. He's dire as the ab-tastic American enigma popping up at convenient times to lend “Reggie” a helping hand. It goes without saying that Wahlberg will never be mentioned in the same breath as Grant. But not only does he fail to appear clever or charming, he can't even convey the street-tough edge that Demme hired him for. And he sports a beret for much of the running time, making him resemble less a man of mystery than a Yankee knobhead.

With this charisma void at Charlie's core, it's no surprise Demme's focus goes walkabout. He's striving to recapture the mischievous froth of his '80s thriller Something Wild, but forget suspense or hairpin plot twists - Demme's too busy slavishly bowing at the altar of the French New Wave. Watching the disciplined storyteller behind The Silence Of The Lambs indulge in pointless jump cuts and jittery, shimmying camera moves is the cinematic equivalent of watching your dad trying to breakdance to prove his hipness. Embarrassing doesn't come close.

On the plus side, the celebrated helmer does spruce up Paris into a pulsating, multicultural swirl, but most of his wacky touches - such as summoning Gallic balladeer Charles Aznavour for a spot of straight-to-camera crooning during an amorous interlude - only underline how laboured this charade is. And dull. By the time the murky plot clouds start lifting, you're less likely to be pining for the truth about Charlie than silently willing the credits to roll.

The truth about Jonathan Demme's remake of Charade isn't pretty: it's a tedious and pointless homage to the French New Wave, featuring a terrible performance by Mark Wahlberg.

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