The Truth About Charlie (review)

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The Truth About Mark

Cary Grant was not a terribly versatile actor, but he had a niche, and he knew better than to stray from what he was awfully, wonderfully good at: the suave man-about-town whom women couldn’t help falling for. We women are still doing it all these years later — falling for him, that is — and he’s been dead how many years?

Mark Wahlberg is not a terribly versatile actor, and when he doesn’t stray from what he’s good at, he can be a wonderfully ingratiating screen presence. As a sincere, good-hearted working-class guy, he’s immensely likeable — see Rock Star and Three Kings. Maybe his characters aren’t the sharpest knives, but they’re kinda cute and they’re nice.
Now, there’s not really any overlap between Grant’s niche and Wahlberg’s niche, and in any right-thinking universe, no one would attempt to shoehorn Wahlberg into a Cary Grant role. Unfortunately, as hardly anyone needs to be told and which is amply demonstrated by The Truth About Charlie, we do not live in a right-thinking universe.

Remakes are an iffy thing. If an old movie could have some new relevance, then maybe it’s worth freshening up. If we’re all simply dying to confirm that, say, George Clooney really is the new Clark Gable, then sure, updating It Happened One Night might make sense. But to take a beloved movie, fail to modernize all the dated stuff, and redo it often shot-for-shot — and without even pretending to have some sort of pseudoartistic motive, like Gus Van Sant did with his Xerox copy of Psycho… Why o why bother? I’m sure most fans of the original 1963 Charade would have far preferred to see that film get a big-screen rerelease than to have its memory desecrated like this.

But guess what? You don’t even have had to seen Charade — as I had not — to appreciate what a mess Jonathan Demme’s remake is. Nor do you even need to know who Cary Grant it to understand why Wahlberg is horribly miscast here. The story is a goofy, not-meant-to-be-taken-seriously jape about a mysteriously dead husband, his naive widow, oodles of missing stolen money, and the dead husband’s crooked buddies who want it back. It’s meant to be a lighthearted escapade, a romantic fantasy about enigmatic yet irresistible strangers, about the joie de vivre of Paris, blah blah blah. Demme’s (The Silence of the Lambs) “lark” has all the airiness of a lead balloon.

And Wahlberg here has all the charm, I’m sorry to say, of a stalker. It’s impossible to understand what appeal his Joshua Peters has for baffled new widow Regina Lampert (Thandie Newton: Mission: Impossible 2) — he barges his way into her life just as she’s unraveling with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. He just doesn’t have the charisma to make a woman overlook his obviousness — he’s definitely after something, probably the missing money. It makes Newton’s Lampert come across not bewitchingly naive, like Charade‘s Audrey Hepburn did, but simply as dumb as a rock. Then again, Lampert is pretty good at making herself look stupid: the first time she goes flying onto her ass as she’s running in her high heels is mildly humorous. After the second time, she deserves a smack and to be taken in hand to Lady Foot Locker for some sneakers.

As if to make up for his practically unwatchable and certainly laughable casting, Demme plops in touches of whimsy — like fantastical appearances by iconic French singer Charles Aznavour — that do nothing but rankle. On this roller coaster of tone, only Tim Robbins (Human Nature, Antitrust), as a cryptic government agent, hits the right notes, and he’s not in the film anywhere near enough, and you have to sit through way too much Wahlberg and Newton to get to him.

Eh. Just rent Charade. And pray that they get Clooney for that It Happened One Night remake.

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