DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE, THE (director/writer:Jonathan Demme; screenwriters: Jessica Bendinger/Steve Schmidt/Peter Stone; cinematographer: Tak Fujimoto; editor: Carol Littleton; music: Rachel Portman; cast: Olga Sékulic (Junior Military Officer), Mark Wahlberg (Joshua Peters), Thandie Newton (Regina Lampert), Tim Robbins (Lewis Bartholomew), Joong-Hoon Park (Il-sang Lee), Ted Levine (Emil Zatapec), Lisa Gay Hamilton (Lola Jansco), Simon Abkarian (Lieutenant Dessalines), Frederique Meininger (Madame du Lac), Christine Boisson (Commandant Dominique), Stephen Dillane (Charles Lampert), Charles Aznavour (Himself), Agnes Varda (Herself), Anna Karina (Herself); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Jonathan Demme/Peter Saraf/Edward Saxon; MCA/Universal Pictures; 2002)

 
"Demme's film looks very French, and appears as appetizing as a croissant."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director/writer Jonathan Demme ("The Silence of the Lambs"/"Something Wild"/"Beloved") has reworked Stanley Donen's popular and charming 1963 romantic mystery "Charade" -- which starred the likable duo of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn and included in supporting roles as the heavies Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy. It's stylishly filmed as if it were a French New Wave film by Godard, with a breathless pace and frequent use of jagged jump cuts. Cinematographer Tak Fujimoto makes fine use of the hand-held camera. Demme's film looks very French, and appears as appetizing as a croissant. Its plot has more twists in it than a 'twist dancer' at NYC's Peppermint Lounge in the 1960s. It works but in a different way from the original because of the stars in the Cary and Audrey roles, Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton, who can't match their charisma and elegance. But they do bring their own special goofy chemistry they have together and at times light up the big screen. Though, I did not find this version to be better than Charade or coming up with anything new that would make me say this film had to be done. Charade was a film I enjoyed immensely, but "Charlie" can compete with it and hold its head proudly. It's darker and less comical, and to its detriment it always seems more clever than charming which can become annoying as the film seems just a little too clever. Also, I didn't relate as much as I should have to the stars. It never makes sense to me why second versions of a successful film are made. In this case, the film retains the same plot even if it still changes everything else about it. Yet it still manages to sparkle even if there's less of a sparkle than the original. I don't know if that's a good enough reason to make this film, but I enjoyed this lesser version nevertheless.

The beautiful Regina Lampert (Thandie Newton) returns from her solo Martinique holiday prepared to divorce her philandering art dealer Swiss husband of three months, Charles Lampert (Stephen Dillane), and discovers that he was slain aboard a train and had a secret life and a secret fortune. At her luxurious Paris flat she's shocked to find it bare, as hubby sold all their expensive furniture while she vacationed. The chain-smoking French Commandant Dominique (Christine Boisson) informs her that Charles stole millions, which just vanished without a trace. The homicide detective questions the baffled Regina as if she were a suspect, telling her whoever took the money killed her hubby. She also shows her passports Charles had from many different countries where he used different names. An innocent victim of this web of intrigue, a damsel-in-distress, she becomes a target for those who want to get the missing money. In her girlish but sexy way she tries to figure out who to trust as different characters pop up to offer her support, and all the while she seems so helpless and knows so little.

A mysterious handsome stranger Regina flirted with on her vacation, meets her again on her flight back to Paris, Joshua Peters (Mark Wahlberg), and falls in love with her like a schoolboy would (he's much too bland in comparison with Cary). Regina eagerly responds to this American living in Paris and moves into his Hotel Langlois but in a different room. But things change in their budding relationship when she meets in secret with Lewis Bartholomew (Tim Robbins), someone connected with the U.S. Embassy as an agent with the O.D.C. (Operation Defense Cooperation), and he informs her that her husband was a civilian operative working with his agency before he stole $6 million in diamonds when on a hostage release spy assignment in Sarajevo to pay for the release of a political prisoner. But that job went wrong and he was supposedly killed in action. Bartholomew now wants that missing ransom money back and warns her to keep their meeting secret and to be on the lookout for the other three dangerous spies who were also on that mission and who are after the missing diamonds, as he shows her a picture of the heavies: Il-sang Lee (Joong-Hoon Park), Emil Zatapec (Ted Levine), Lola Jansco (Lisa Gay Hamilton). The sinister trio are menacingly following her around Paris, which makes her dependent on outside help. The buttoned-down operative Bartholomew also tells her about another operative, Carson Dyle, who supposedly was killed in the gunfight taking place during the operation. But that's just the beginning of all the ruses that are to take place in this cloak-and-dagger thriller, as the only character the audience is sure of until the final scene is Regina.

Demme, in a playful mood, throws out a bone for film buffs to chew on, as he names a hotel after Cinemathèque Française founder Henri Langlois -- the Hotel Langlois -- where much of the action is set. He also has the aged Charles Aznavour sing his famous love songs. There are also cameos by Agnes Varda and Anna Karina. It's strictly an escapist film that entertains through its trickery, and dazzles with its colorful visual effects. It left me only satisfied to a certain point. When I'm hungry I want more on my plate than just a tasty pastry for dessert, especially since I already saw what the full-course looks like.

REVIEWED ON 11/16/2002     GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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