- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2002

Remakes aren't necessarily abominations. It took Warner Bros. three tries before it got "The Maltese Falcon" right, under John Huston's direction in 1941. Kenneth Branagh made his film debut by demonstrating that "Henry V" could profit from a fresh cinematic enactment. Just a few weeks ago, "Red Dragon" illustrated the advantages of remaking a prototype ("Manhunter") in order to achieve belated stylistic harmony with a prestige sequel ("The Silence of the Lambs").
Unfortunately, the more typical case tends to resemble this weekend's supremely uncalled-for update of Stanley Donen's "Charade," now woefully disguised as "The Truth About Charlie" by a misguided Jonathan Demme.
"Charade" was enormously appealing at first glance, in 1963. It has remained durably stylish and satisfying for almost 40 years.
A romantic comedy-murder mystery set for the most part in Paris, "Charade" found Mr. Donen and screenwriter Peter Stone in an inspired mood of homage to Alfred Hitchcock at his most playful. They even recruited Mr. Hitchcock's most elegant leading man, Cary Grant, to authenticate the hero, a man of mystery who seems to be suitably protective about a vivacious young widow played by Audrey Hepburn.
She discovers that her estranged and promptly deceased husband, Charles, has been involved in criminal conspiracies that date back to World War II. Meanwhile, she is being urged to uncover $250,000 in ill-gotten gains by the Paris police, a trio of amusingly sinister types and a jumpy CIA bureaucrat impersonated by Walter Matthau.
I don't think anyone would have felt shortchanged if Mr. Demme and his fellow screenwriters had put their heads together on a romantic-comedy-thriller that reflected the savory influence of "Charade" while contriving a cleverly different set of characters and a cleverly different plot. The real trouble with "Charlie" is that it poaches conspicuously and desperately on the original plot while also borrowing and botching frequent specimens of the original dialogue, wrenched out of context and entrusted to less nimble vocal instruments.
The shortcomings that result from emphasizing your dependence on a famous prototype while simultaneously coarsening and muddling the source material are bound to put admirers in a contemptuous mood. As an admirer from the opening day of "Charade," I can testify that "Charlie" is at a painful disadvantage from start to finish.
The best excuse Mr. Demme has to offer is the desire to showcase Thandie Newton in the sort of vehicle that once flattered such stars as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly or Ingrid Bergman. Miss Newton does recall the delicacy of Miss Hepburn in her prime, and her voice has a similar timbre and English lilt, especially when emphasizing certain words. But "Charlie" puts her through a mill that sacrifices crack teamwork and confident execution.
It also robs her Reggie of a glamorous, mature consort. To put it gently, Mark Wahlberg is not the second coming of Cary Grant. Both leading lady and leading man seem like juvenile stand-ins for the originals.
"Charlie" also favors a more motley batch of villains and a more motley Paris, now afflicted with rotten weather and exploited as a scenically depleted labyrinth of ethnic byways and deathtraps. The gleaming pictorial style of "Charade" has been degraded in the interest of unstable mannerisms, which Mr. Demme may associate with the French new-wave films of the early 1960s. I think he's off a few decades.
His reliance on incessantly circling shots with the subjects in close-up reflects the Steadicam influence at its most annoying.
Mr. Wahlberg might seem a more appealing romantic lead if he were cast as something more youthful and plausible than the troubleshooting cool customer that worked for Cary Grant. It also would help if he didn't have to wear the silliest beret ever affixed to a young actor's skull during certain episodes.
Nothing about "Charlie" rivals the wall-to-wall finesse and pleasure of "Charade."

*1/2
TITLE: "The Truth About Charlie"
RATING: PG-13 (Occasional profanity, graphic violence and comic vulgarity)
CREDITS: Directed by Jonathan Demme. Screenplay by Mr. Demme and Steve Schmidt, Peter Joshua and Jessica Bendinger, based on Peter Stone's screenplay for Stanley Donen's 1963 film "Charade"
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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