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"THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE"
(2002) (Thandie Newton, Mark Wahlberg) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Romantic Thriller: A woman tries to figure out what's going on and who to believe when various untrustworthy characters show up following her husband's murder.
PLOT:
Regina Lambert (THANDIE NEWTON) is a Brit living in Paris who's set to divorce her husband, Charles (STEPHEN DILLANE), after just four months of marriage. She doesn't get the chance, however, for when she returns from vacation, she discovers that he liquated their belongings and has now been murdered.

Interviewed by local police Commandant Jeanne Dominique (CHRISTINE BOISSON) and her assistant, Lieutenant Dessalines (SIMON ABKARIAN), Regina learns that Charles wasn't the man she thought and had many passports and aliases. She then confides in American Joshua Peters (MARK WAHLBERG) whom she briefly met on vacation and then again at the airport while returning home.

He then puts her up in a nearby hotel where she receives a message to meet Mr. Bartholomew (TIM ROBBINS), an American official with the Office of Defense Cooperation. He informs her that Charles was involved in covert military operations and that $6 million related to that is now missing. He also warns her to watch out for a trio of other operatives -- Il-Sang Lee (JOONG-HOON PARK), Emil Zadapec (TED LEVINE) and Lola Jansco (LISA GAY HAMILTON) - who will come looking for the money.

As Regina repeatedly runs into the various untrustworthy characters who tell her their versions of the truth regarding the money and their involvement with it, she tries to figure out what's really going on and who to believe.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
As is the case with the way most anything is told to others, the proper tone of cinematic storytelling is the key to success. Horror movies need to have the right eerie or spooky aura, comedies (unless of the vulgar or black variety) usually need to be light and airy, and romantic comedies need to have both of those qualities.

The problem with "The Truth About Charlie" is that it never has a consistent tone. In fact, it never settles on one or any particular genre for that matter. Purportedly a romantic thriller, the film constantly alternates between suspense, comedy, romance and more. While it's not entirely impossibly to pull off such a balancing effort, this film's wishy-washy approach doesn't gel and thus none of the genre elements manages to work together or on their own.

A remake of Stanley Donen's 1963 film "Charade" that starred no less than Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, George Kennedy, James Coburn and Walter Matthau, the film obviously isn't meant to be taken seriously. That's a good thing since it has a number of problems, the most notable being that it's not as intriguing or as much fun as it needs to be to work.

Following the original film's plot rather closely - notwithstanding contemporary updates and a few other changes - director and co-screenwriter Jonathan Demme ("The Silence of the Lambs," "Philadelphia") and his trio of fellow screenwriters, Steve Schmidt ("Cost of Living"), Peter Joshua (making his debut) and Jessica Bendinger ("Bring It On") tell a tale where things and people aren't what they initially or later seem to be.

Films with double-crossing and ever-changing identities can be fun if handled with the right touch, but Demme and company fumble quite a bit in their approach. Like the main character -- Thandie Newton ("Mission: Impossible 2," "Beloved") in the Hepburn part - we're supposed to be intrigued by the mystery and its related cast of untrustworthy characters.

Unfortunately, that just doesn't happen enough. When it does, it's not terribly engaging. Demme's idea of building viewer interest seems to be in having various passing characters staring at the main characters. Maybe that worked back in the '60s, but it does little for the effort here.

It doesn't help that the story doesn't make much sense, either as it unfolds or in the standard, villain-tells-all finale that doesn't have much in the way of a fun or clever revelation or resolution. While that might be the intended point, it gives the plot a soft and unfinished feel when it should be taught and razor sharp in all aspects.

Then again, Demme's direction - something of an apparent tribute to French New Wave filmmaking with handheld, jumpy and off-kilter camera work posing as being artsy - is all over the place as well, much like the ever-changing genre selection. That doesn't help the storytelling or tonal attributes, resulting in a picture that just doesn't feel as if it were left in the oven long enough.

That said, there are a few moments that shine, such as a tango scene where Newton's character ends up dancing with or being in the vicinity of most everyone interested in one way or another with her. It's not as brilliant as it might have been, but at least it's more successful than most of the film.

Beyond remaking the film in general, Demme had the daunting task of replacing the famous and/or legendary stars with contemporary performers in the various roles. Probably to no one's surprise, Newton and Mark Wahlberg ("Planet of the Apes," "Boogie Nights") are no Hepburn and Grant, and the chemistry between them isn't nearly as palpable.

Despite realizing what the filmmakers and Newton were trying to do with her character and how she acts and reacts, the part and/or performance just didn't work for me. Smartly not trying to emulate Grant's smooth charm and charisma, Wahlberg is decent in his role, but is hampered by the weak script and unsure direction.

As the trio of nebulous villains, Joong-Hoon Park ("My Love, My Bride," "Two Cops"), Lisa Gay Hamilton ("True Crime," "Jackie Brown") and Ted Levine ("The Fast and the Furious," "The Silence of the Lambs") play an uneasy balance of comedy and villainy. The results, like the rest of the film, are a mixed bag. Christine Boisson ("The Mechanics of Women," "Emmanuelle") plays the local cop who's working the case, while Tim Robbins ("Human Nature," "The Shawshank Redemption") shows up playing the original Walter Matthau part and is rather good in the role.

Overall, I can appreciate what the film was trying to do and be, but the approach and final product just aren't as sharp or as much fun as they should have been and how everyone involved seems to think they are. "The Truth About Charlie" rates as just a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed October 22, 2002 / Posted October 25, 2002


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