Dir: Jonathan Demme. US. 2002. 104mins
If Steven Soderbergh can gross $400m worldwide with a remake of Ocean's Eleven, then why can not Jonathan Demme do the same with a remake of Charade' The reason is simple: the first Ocean's Eleven is a movie which never inspired much love and Soderbergh built a new construct of contemporary cool around the creaky plot. Stanley Donen's Charade, on the other hand, is one of the most beloved movies of the 1960s, an effortlessly chic entertainment dominated by the gigantic superstar teaming of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Demme's The Truth About Charlie fails miserably as an update. Its absence of star power only serves to expose the clunky plot, its dearth of suspense to highlight the absence of star power. Audiences around the world will listen to critics and give it a "pass", as perhaps should have Universal Pictures in the first place.
As the presence of four screenwriters indicates, much effort was made to work out a satisfactorily "updated" screenplay, but it's not enough. You can not remake a movie so dependent on its time. In 1963, Charade's hapless heroine experienced paranoia and mistrust in a strange and foreign city, but in 2002, with London only three hours away, the city is no longer so intimidating. It certainly shouldn't be for a worldly English gal like Thandie Newton, whose character seems plain dumb reacting with the same confusion as Hepburn.
A prologue introduces us to Charlie Lambert, played by Stephen Dillane, as he wakes up from a night spent with a stewardess in a train sleeper. Moments later, he is murdered by a man he knows (we don't see his face).
His wife, Regina Lambert (Newton) has been holidaying on her own in Martinique. Back in Paris, an American she has met on the trip - Joshua Peters (Mark Wahlberg) - escorts her from the airport in a taxi to her apartment. But once she gets into her apartment, she finds it completely cleared out of furniture, with only a letter from Charlie saying he has gone out of town. A police inspector (Christine Boisson) emerges from the gloom to tell her that he has been murdered and she must come into police headquarters to identify the body.
Regina, married to Charlie only three months, confesses that they were headed for divorce, but the police soon inform her that he was not the man she thought he was. Before long Peters is back in the picture, snooping around for $6m which Charlie is thought to have hidden somewhere. Joining Peters in the hunt for the money are a trio of Charlie's former "friends" (Park, Levine, Hamilton) and a US embassy official (Robbins), all of whom believe Regina has the key to its location.
Newton is a charming actress, but no amount of charm can win an audience over with this perplexing character. Why, for example, is a modern girl like Regina married to Charlie in the first place and how come their marriage is already over' Wahlberg shows some spark, but again the role is a dud, and, let's face it, he is no Cary Grant.
Demme's intoxication with Paris as a movie location and his affection for French cinema in general is evident. Therein lies another paradox in the movie. While on one hand, he and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto try to paint a warts-and-all portrait of the city of lights, on the other, he can't help throw in nostalgic references to Nouvelle Vague (a clip of Shoot The Piano Player) and the romantic chansons of Charles Aznavour. So despite the rain-swept skies and dirty streets, this is still the Paris of fantasy - not the real city we know so well from contemporary French cinema or indeed from a far tighter thriller released earlier this year - Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity.
Despite the contrivances of the enterprise, Demme throws in some pleasurable ingredients, notably a thumping soundtrack of world music and some choice cameos (Aznavour, Anna Karina, Agnes Varda).
Prod cos: Clinica Estetica, Universal Pictures
Worldwide dist: Universal Pictures/UIP
Exec prod: Ilona Herzberg
Prods: Jonathan Demme, Ed Saxon, Peter Saraf
Scr: Demme & Steve Schmidt, Peter Joshua, Jessica Bendinger, based on the screenplay for the movie Charade by Peter Stone
Cinematographer: Tak Fujimoto
Prod des: Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski
Ed: Carol Littleton
Music: Rachel Portman
Main cast: Mark Wahlberg, Thandie Newton, Tim Robbins, Joong-Hoon Park, Ted Levine, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Christine Boisson, Stephen Dillane