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Paris by Ferris: Tim Robbins takes Thandie Newton for a ride in Jonathan Demme's 'The Truth About Charlie.'

City of Lights

'The Truth About Charlie' serves up Paris

By Richard von Busack

THE 1963 MOVIE Charade has been called a classic, but calling it a classic implies that there is a classic seriousness that must be followed in any remake. Jonathan Demme's version, The Truth About Charlie, has been getting a critical pasting because of the way it thwarts expectations: it isn't, for instance, enough like The Bourne Identity, not that the critics liked The Bourne Identity that much either. And yet it offers more sheer fun than almost any other film of the year.

Thandie Newton, with her delicacy, playfulness and unruffled glamour, is impeccably cast in the Audrey Hepburn part. She's so right she could have even made that remake of Sabrina work. Newton plays Regina Lambert, a new widow who learns that her late husband filched a huge sum of money from some desperate characters. A man she's met briefly, who calls himself "Joshua Peters" (Mark Wahlberg), extends his help. Suave Tim Robbins (in the Walter Matthau part) plays a vague government agent who takes the widow for a Harry Lime-style ride on a Ferris wheel.

Demme shores up the feminine side of this bit of confectionery with its paper-thin plot. This version includes a no-nonsense Parisian cop: Christine Boisson, looking so shrewd she wouldn't trust her own grandmother. The villains are multiculti: Ted Levine (Buffalo Bill in Demme's The Silence of the Lambs) is joined by Lisa Gay Hamilton and Joong-Hoon Park. Our old-fashioned junk-movie instincts lead us to expect the Asian to be the most ruthless of the three; instead, he's the most tenderhearted. The film has no malice--especially in Demme's boldest, most unexpected move: the anti-shootout at the end.

As for Wahlberg in the Cary Grant role--well, where would you find a new Cary Grant? George Clooney's working overtime as it is. There's a bad lack of chemistry between the luscious Newton and the blocky Wahlberg, who, admittedly, has never looked this alive before. Still, like Godard's Breathless, The Truth About Charlie was grabbed off the streets of Paris, filmed semilegally with a hand-held camera. Its debt to the French New Wave is honored and paid, with shots of Godard's ex-wife and muse Anna Karina singing at a bal musette and glimpses of director Agnès Varda and Charles Aznavour (of Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player) lurking about. Note also the film-geek joke about the Hotel Langlois (named for the head of the Cinémathèque Française). The film is full of the spice and warmth that Africa has brought to Paris. Some of the key scenes take place in the souk of the flea market, filled with cameo players, including Sotigui Kouyaté as a merchant who tells, with grave humanity, a story about a rare-stamp dealer who made a big score and dropped dead the next day.

Demme, one of modern cinema's pioneer samplers, is a man in love with cities, with their speed and energy and with the way people carom off one another. The Truth About Charlie displays a democratic sense of the cool. It's something cool, but not something exclusionary; old or young, black or white, male and female can all be in on the game.

The Truth About Charlie (PG-13; 100 min.), directed by Jonathan Demme, written by Demme, Steve Schmidt, Peter Joshua and Jessica Bendinger, based on the movie Charade, photographed by Tak Fujimoto and starring Mark Wahlberg, Thandie Newton and Tim Robbins, plays at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the October 31-November 6, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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