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The Truth About Charlie

Near the end of The Truth About Charlie, two characters dash madly after the film's McGuffin, first via subway, then on foot. They finally engage in a rough-and-tumble struggle on a staircase, before they're individually yanked back to the landing in humiliation. It's one of several moments in which the playfulness of the scene never quite masks the seriousness beneath, which would suggest the handiwork of director Jonathan Demme even if he weren't listed in the credits. Charlie shares that tone with its source material, Stanley Donen's 1963 film Charade, a Hitchcockian thriller that plays light and loose until it turns deadly. Even given the daunting task of remaking a well-loved film that starred Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, the director would have a hard time finding a vehicle better suited to the sensibility he brought to Married To The Mob and Something Wild. With Charlie, Demme seems aware of that—maybe a bit too aware, since he's made a film so frothy and energetic that the fun starts to exhaust itself after a while. Stepping into the Hepburn role with an abundance of grace, Thandie Newton plays a woman who returns to Paris from a Caribbean vacation intending to become a divorcee, but fated to discover she's a widow instead. After coming home to a ransacked apartment, Newton is whisked to a police interrogation, shown a handful of passports bearing her late husband's picture and a string of unfamiliar names, asked a series of questions she can't answer, and let loose to the wilds of Paris, where shadowy figures take an aggressive interest in the few possessions in her shoulder bag. Fortunately, or so it would seem, she has two people looking after her: handsome stranger Mark Wahlberg and Tim Robbins, a hilariously stiff man who claims to be an American agent. This may sound confusing, but keeping the story straight is less of a concern than sorting through the possibilities it presents. Charlie takes place not in the Paris captured by Donen, but in the one created by the French New Wave. Demme piles on the references, giving cameos to Agnès Varda, Anna Karina, and, most memorably, cabaret singer Charles Aznavour. Even without them, the line of influence would be clear. Though indisputably a thriller, Charlie abandons itself to little cinematic rhapsodies, self-reflexive asides, and montages of Paris locations cued to a soundtrack of cool French pop, all of which often seems more vital than the main order of business. Eventually, that business gets in the way, as the story asserts itself while winding down to a less-than-thrilling climax, and Wahlberg repeatedly proves to be far out of his range. (He should seem dapper and conniving, but instead acts like he hasn't shaken his confused-astronaut character from Planet Of The Apes.) Long stretches of Charlie combine charm and suspense to remarkable effect, but the attempts to sustain a tone of romantic abandon would succeed much better if an interrupted mood and a broken one weren't pretty much the same thing.

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