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The Truth About Charlie

The Truth About Charlie, Jonathan Demme's remake of Stanley Donen's Charade, is a lovely, ragged thing. The plot, more or less, stands the same: Regina Lambert (Thandie Newton) returns home from holiday to ask her husband, Charles, for a divorce ' a moot request, it turns out, as Charlie has already been offed. Trying to unmask the murderer, Regina fumbles about Paris with a whole lot of shady types on her tail: the Komandant, who suspects the widow of foul play; a trio of Charles' former 'business associates' sniffing out the $6 million he stole from them a few years back; an American government type (Tim Robbins), keen to recover the money for Uncle Sam; and a hunky stranger named Joshua Peters (Mark Wahlberg), who shows up just in time to offer a helpful hand and a shoulder to cry on.

Demme's tweaks in the plot are interesting: There's less damsel-in-distress and more proactive sleuthing from Regina. And much of the malice behind the trio of so-called baddies has been eliminated. Still, Charlie is a bit of a flop in the thriller department. I've seen the film twice now and still can't get it all to shake down; there are too many details glossed over, while others are piled on confusingly. And the final revelation ' where that $6 million is hiding out ' is handled with all the grace of a slammed car door.

And yet I'm not sure I really care. The plot is a pittance, a distraction from the real pull of the piece: its mood. The film presents a dizzying barrage of sights and sounds all perfectly in tune with its Paris setting, from Tak Fujimoto's near-miraculous camerawork to the propulsive soundtrack to the sound design, layered with jostling crowds, squealing tires and music heard from far away. There is a tango, of course (how could there not be in a film so fully in love with Paris?), and it marks Charlie's most thrilling set-piece. As French New Wave cover girl Anna Karina croons at a nightclub, there's a breathless roundelay, each player cropping up to take a turn at Regina's cheek. They're all worthy opponents, with one exception ' Charlie's other major stumbling block, the aforementioned 'hunky' Mr. Wahlberg.

He's all wrong. Wahlberg's done good work before, in Boogie Nights and Three Kings, and his little-boy whinny was appropriate to those roles. Not so here. He sounds like a crybaby, and how sexy is that? He's a lightweight at the crucial romantic wordplay, and as far as the constant reinvention his character requires, all Wahlberg can muster is a switch from beret to fedora and back again. It's a damn shame, because I couldn't imagine a more perfect successor to Audrey Hepburn than Thandie Newton. A coltish beauty, Newton nails Regina's quick changes, from grieving and terrorized to impish and empowered. She carries the picture on her slender shoulders ' not that it's all that much heavy lifting.

If suspense is Charlie's chief ambition, then the film is a disappointment. But as an experiment in mood, as a love song to Paris and to the French New Wave, it provides giddy satisfaction.

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