I can’t figure out how a studio decided to take “Charade,” one of the world’s most delectable movies, and remake it without a single one of the ingredients that made it great. The dreamy theme song by Henry Mancini is gone, except for a dozen brief, quiet bars almost lost amidst the screeching, thumping soundtrack. The witty dialogue is gone, except for a couple of quips. They left out one of the best last lines in the history of movies. But, worst of all, the star power is gone, too. This movie has some attractive and talented actors. But I think I can state without fear of contradiction that Mark Wahlberg is no Cary Grant. And he should stay away from berets.
If we were to erase every memory of the original, this movie would simply be a pedestrian and mildly weird standard romantic thriller, below average but not unwatchable. Thandie Newton plays Regina Lampert, a British woman living in Paris. Three months earlier she impulsively married a wealthy Swiss art dealer but has resolved to get a divorce because she feels it was a mistake. Before she can tell him, she arrives home to find their apartment empty and gutted. He liquidated everything they had and left without leaving a message. She learns that he has been killed. And then she learns that he was not Swiss and not an art dealer. He had stolen some money while on a military operation for the United States. The money has disappeared, and the people he first stole it with and then stole it from want it back. And so does the U.S. Government.
Josh Peters (Wahlberg) arrives just as she is feeling like a damsel in distress and he befriends her. At first, she relies on him, but then she finds out that he has not been honest with her, so she has to use her own judgment and courage to decide who to trust and to solve the mystery.
Director Jonathan Demme undercuts the suspense with clumsy exposition and poorly handled characterization. Wahlberg looks puffy and unhappy and has no chemistry with Newton. And there are some surreal moments (possibly tributes to the French New Wave films of the 1960’s) that do not work at all. Josh plays a CD by French legend Charles Aznavour for Regina and all of a sudden, Aznavour is in the room, singing. A strange nightclub scene brings all of the characters together in a mad tango. The credit sequence also takes some of the characters in a playful direction that has no connection to the mood of the rest of the movie.
Parents should know that the movie includes nudity, an adulterous sexual situation, extreme peril and violence, strong language, and drinking and smoking. There is an off-camera but vivid search of a dead body. Regina responds to the stress of having to identify her late husband and being questioned by the police by getting drunk.
Families who see this movie should talk about how Regina decides whom to trust.
All fans of mystery and romance should see the classic “Charade” with Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, and Walter Matthau, and, if possible, they should also watch the DVD with delightfully witty commentary by the director and screenwriter. Families will also enjoy the companion movie, “Arabesque,” with Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren.