Review by Dustin Putman
2 stars out of 4
Jonathan Demme is almost a consistently fine director, the man behind
the camera of such powerful works as 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs,"
1993's "Philadelphia," and 1998's "Beloved." With his latest film,
"The Truth About Charlie," Demme's luck has finally run out. A remake
of the 1963 Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn-starred "Charade" (unseen by
me), "The Truth About Charlie" is an at-times effective, cinematically
stylish homage to French New Wave cinema, but quickly gets mired in
a hodgepodge of messy and unremittingly ludicrous plot developments.
Favoring visuals over character development has the ability to work
if given the right hand. Unfortunately, Demme wants to have his cake
and eat it too. He expects the viewer to care about the fates of his
characters, but never offers up a single volatile reason for why they should.
Regina Lampert (Thandie Newton) returns home to Paris from a relaxing
Caribbean vacation to discover her apartment ransacked, all of her
possessions taken, and her ultra-wealthy husband, Charlie (Stephen
Dillane), murdered. Making things even worse, she is informed by Commandant
Dominique (Christine Boisson) that Charlie was not at all what he
seemed, with a variety of separate identities spanning the world.
Regina is asked to help Dominique and the forthright Mr. Bartholomew
(Tim Robbins) investigate his murder, all the while putting herself
in harm's way of a variety of mysterious people who are all after
Charlie's money. One person who may not be who he seems is the charming
Joshua Peters (Mark Wahlberg), an American with the ability to sweep
Regina under his rapturous spell.
The most obvious shortcoming in "The Truth About Charlie" is its lack
of underlying substance. Every character is either all surface, or
present for the sole reason of standing around and looking suspicious.
No one--not even protagonist Regina--is developed at all outside of
what the plot-heavy goings-on requires. Moreover, Regina is the one
human figure we are asked to sympathize with, but at every turn she
exposes herself to be rather dim, always doing the dumbest or most
unlikely things possible in each situation.
Apparently, one of the delights of "Charade" was the witty banter
and sizzling chemistry Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn possessed. In
comparison, the sluggish romance found in "The Truth About Charlie"
is so sterile it passes as a mere afterthought. Thandie Newton (2000's
"Mission: Impossible 2") is a radiant presence, as usual, doing what
she can with a part that doesn't give Regina the brains necessary
to carry the film. All that is missing is a male co-star for Newton
that holds up their end of the bargain. In surely one of his weakest
performances, Mark Wahlberg (2000's "The Perfect Storm"), as the cryptic
and alluring Joshua Peters, comes close to embarrassing himself. Whether
he is reciting a line or simply reacting, Wahlberg is way over his
head in a part that deserved a weightier thespian.
Not for a lack of trying, the promising supporting cast gets lost
within the restricting confines of the convoluted plot. As three of
Charlie's former military mates who believe they deserve his wealth,
Joong-Hoon Park, Lisa Gay Hamilton (1998's "Beloved"), and Ted Levine
(2001's "Evolution") are solid. Only Christine Boisson, as the saucy
Commandant Dominique, manages to squeak in a few extra character shades
than what was clearly on the written page.
There are singular moments of quirky inspiration found in "The Truth
About Charlie," such as when Regina and Joshua are listening to recording
artist Charles Aznavour only for him to appear in the flesh to serenade
them. The eclectic, internationally-flavored soundtrack selections
add some much-needed energy, as well. A climactic scene set on a bridge
between Regina and an anonymous woman in black is artfully powerful.
All of director Jonathan Demme's inventive flourishes, however, are
at the service of a decidedly empty, boneheaded final product that
refuses to give the audience anything to care about, or anyone to actively root for.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman