MOVIES I WISH HAD BEEN BETTER
As my love for classic films developed over the years, there were several stars I fell for right away (such appeal is essentially why they are big stars). Two of those performers were Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. So when I learned about the one film they made together – in my favorite genre of crime thriller, no less – I just knew I was going to love it.
In addition to starring Hepburn and Grant, the movie is directed by one of the great big screen visual stylists, Stanley Donen, and features a terrific supporting cast including Walter Matthau, George Kennedy and James Coburn. It’s an entertaining romp full of chases, misdirection and, of course, romance since Hepburn and Grant are the leads.
The story goes like so: Hepburn’s estranged husband is mysteriously killed, and the people suspected of killing him are soon hounding her to get what they didn’t get from her hubby – a whole lot of stolen money. There’s also a treasury agent leaning on her to find the money and a detective trying to catch the killer. Grant plays a fellow traveler Hepburn considers dating until she realizes she is in danger. Then she begins to rely on him as a protector while continuing to size him up as marriage material. But is he really who he says he is? Who can she trust – especially since she apparently didn’t know her late husband very well at all?
The movie is a lot of fun, but as crime capers go, it’s a lot of fluff as well. The romance between Grant and Hepburn is charming (“When you come on, you really come on.”). But it doesn’t have quite the same sparkle as some of Grant's other late career on-screen affairs like with Grace Kelly in “To Catch A Thief” (another light crime caper) and Eva Marie Saint in “North by Northwest,” both directed by Alfred Hitchcock. “Charade” doesn’t top any lists for me, but I still consider it a classic, and I often watch it when it plays on TCM or some other movie channel.
So in 2002, when I discovered that one of my favorite directors, Jonathan Demme, was filming a remake of “Charade” called “The Truth about Charlie,” I was thrilled. Surely he could take it to that higher level I thought the original film came just short of - a darker, more dangerous level injected with a bit more realism. Then I heard he was going to cast a black actress – the lovely Thandie Newton – in the lead. Points for going against the grain! But she wasn’t a big star, and I knew there had to be a big name attached. Well the big name ended up being Mark Wahlberg, and I became concerned right away.
I’ve been a Wahlberg fan since “Boogie Nights,” and honestly, I didn’t mind his Calvin Klein ads one bit either. He has proven himself a solid actor – a two-time Oscar nominee excelling at playing either sensitive or tough types in comedies and dramas. He killed it in “The Departed,” and I also loved him in “The Italian Job” (even though he seemed to be playing himself for the most part) and the indie bomb “I Heart Huckabees.” But as talented as he is, worldly sophistication is not Wahlberg’s forte on screen, and that’s what was called for in “The Truth about Charlie.”
In fairness, modern audiences would not have been expecting a Cary Grant type in the role, but they needed more than that ill-suited beret Wahlberg wears throughout the movie to take him seriously. The badly miscast Wahlberg was not the only problem. There are script issues as well because I never feel completely engrossed in the story. There was style but no substance, and sometimes that’s OK if the film makes up for it in some way. “The Truth about Charlie” does not.
The bottom line is it’s just not very interesting or plausible, and by the end I didn’t care what happened. Thandie Newton is one of the few saving graces. She is believable and magnetic. And Christine Boisson is great as the cop on the case. But Tim Robbins is given little to do except look suspicious as the treasury agent. And the criminal team is a rather bland and predictable bunch, although it was nice to see Lisa Gay Hamilton get some big-budget movie love.
Alas, “The Truth about Charlie” is a far cry from the engaging escapade that is “Charade,” and unfortunately it doesn’t even make the cut as an entertaining thriller without the somewhat unfair comparison to its predecessor. I remain a fan of Demme and the primary actors in the film, but I wish Demme had taken the story and characters in more compelling directions.