The whole truth: Charade remake delivers the goods

Remakes are tricky things. In many cases, the filmmaker has no concept other than to make pretty much the same movie with a different cast on the theory that the property has proven itself, and younger audiences will enjoy it more with actors they can relate to. Even highly anticipated "reimaginings" like Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes can prove disappointingly unimaginative.

On the other hand, new ideas aren't necessarily good ones. Gus Van Sant's shot-by-shot recreation of Psycho should never have been green-lighted. At the other end of the spectrum is The Truth About Charlie, Jonathan Demme's delightful new version of Stanley Donen's 1963 Charade.

The plot and some memorable bits of dialogue are pretty much intact, but the style is totally different. While Donen was emulating Alfred Hitchcock's films of the 1950s, Demme is influenced by the French New Wave films of Truffaut and Godard that were made around the same time as Charade. Revolutionary at the time, their techniques continue to be evident in mainstream films today, so The Truth About Charlie doesn't look like a period piece; but it may be the Frenchest American film ever made.

Generations that have never seen Charade, let alone French New Wave films, can enjoy The Truth About Charlie on its own considerable merits. Others will be hard-pressed not to compare the new cast with the old. Thandie Newton is an admirable substitute for Audrey Hepburn, though without her iconic status; but Mark Wahlberg is no Cary Grant. That's not all bad. Being close in age, he and Newton make a more believable couple, though they lack old-fashioned movie-star glamour.

Newton plays Regina Lambert, whose husband Charles is murdered in France when she's on the verge of divorcing him. She learns all kinds of secrets about him, including several false identities and the fact that he'd worked as an American secret agent. She learns the latter from a Mr. Bartholomew (Tim Robbins) of the Office of Defense Cooperation.

The others Regina may be able to turn to for help are the police commandant (Christine Boisson), who thinks she may have played a role in her husband's murder, and Joshua Peters (Wahlberg), a mysterious stranger she met on vacation who's been popping up everywhere ever since.

There are three people (Joong-hoon Park, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Ted Levine) chasing Regina. It seems they were on a mission with Charlie three years ago, and he ran off with $6 million in diamonds. Whoever killed him didn't get the gems or the money, so everyone assumes Regina has them.

Joshua may have more identities than Charlie did, but all of them love Regina. Or are they all after her money? Demme doesn't maintain the romantic thread as well as Donen did while juggling the comedy and thriller elements, nor does he create as much suspense as the Hitchcock-damaged Donen did, but he keeps things light and playful while taking us along on his cinematic joyride.

Demme's Paris is more varied than Donen's, including a lot of the dark side of the City of Light that tourists never see. His cast is also more diverse, with more women and people of color in leading roles. Henry Mancini's music was fine in its day, but today's French pop has a heavy African influence, and Demme has made excellent selections to fit the pace and mood of each scene. He even uses Charles Aznavour, a veteran of the New Wave via Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player, to represent the romantic side of Paris, and Godard's favorite actress (and ex-wife) Anna Karina as the soul of cabaret.

In an alarming continuation of a current trend (Possession, Karmen Gei) a female character who says she's attracted to Regina dies in the very next scene. I guess lesbians don't do sequels.

A strange thing happened at the screening I attended. There was an equipment failure a little past the halfway point. I was loving the movie until then, but when it resumed, after a break of perhaps 15 minutes, it never seemed to fully regain its momentum. I wish I could have seen The Truth About Charlie again before filing this review, to see whether the fault lies with the film itself or whatever stars caused the cosmic screw-up.

Even if it's not perfect The Truth About Charlie is one of the increasingly rare films out of Hollywood that prove movies can be both art and entertainment at the same time.