Harlan Ellison has this great anecdote about a movie pitch he once heard from your quintessential Hollywood boneheaded producer. Apparently the hyperventilating, over-excitable producer wanted to remake The Wiz, "but white!"
*pause for effect*
Remakes: the bane of and easiest target for movie snobs everywhere, and mostly for good reason. It's yet another surefire sign that mainstream Hollywood has figuratively, from a creative standpoint, bought a home in Florida to take advantage of Homestead Protection laws and subsequently filed for Chapter 11.
(And no, Huston's and Bogart's The Maltese Falcon was not a remake: it was an adaptation of a literary work. From a cinematic standpoint, my definition of a "remake" is any film adapted from another work that originated as film. So John Huston's masterpiece easily escapes my wrath. As does Inagaki's Samurai trilogy. That's my rule and I'm sticking to it.)
With that in mind, I sharpened my fangs with ghoulish anticipation of reviewing The Truth About Charlie. Charade, the movie from which it was adapted, is Holy Writ in my book. Coasting off of the stellar charisma of leads Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, director Stanley Donen and screenwriter Peter Stone constructed a wonderfully lively, suspenseful, and classic film that played like the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock never made, only without Hitchcock's inability to successfully end a movie. Forty years later, Charade still delights and entertains on an almost ferociously charming level.
So what's the truth about "Charlie?" The Truth About Charlie is that it's a terribly lousy movie. The Truth About Charlie is that remaking a classic film is a really bad idea. The Truth About Charlie is that I can't believe this movie came from the talented director of such gems as The Silence of the Lambs, Married to the Mob, and Stop Making Sense. Harsh words, but they come from one lowly reviewer/critic/goofball who considers the aforementioned three films to be some of the finest examples of their genre.
And it's not exactly like Jonathan Demme was phoning his direction in; The Truth About Charlie is the type of bad film that only a truly gifted filmmaker could create. It's stylish, slick, edgy, and wears its French New Wave appreciation badge proudly on its sleeve. It's also plodding, unengaging, meandering, and suffering from an acute identity crisis. The Truth About Charlie is also saddled with an atrocious performance from Mark Wahlberg, whose leaden line delivery, bland screen presence, and lack of chemistry with Thandie Newton (who, as the real star of the film, acquits herself quite admirably in a wonderful performance. She won't make you forget Audrey, but honestly, who could?) sink the film every time he appears. Tim Robbins's bizarre channeling of Walter Matthau in his performance doesn't help, either.
Five years elapsed between the release of Demme's last film and The Truth About Charlie, and as a Demme fan I was hoping for a sharper, more original piece of filmmaking rather than a bizarre remake of a Hollywood classic. Perhaps sensing this, or maybe looking for an opportunity to showcase one of their classier properties, Universal decided to include the original Charade in their DVD release of The Truth About Charlie, a move that might tip the scales for those who are "on the fence."
The gray, soggy, rain-soaked streets of Paris come alive in the video presentation of this film. Presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (anamorphically enhanced), The Truth About Charlie looks extremely strong, with a exceptional sharpness and attention to detail. The muted color scheme is beautifully rendered, with emphasis placed on the blues, grays, and neutral color palette that enhance the film's slick, stylish cinematography. Contrasts and black levels are well presented, although pesky edge-enhancement does make an occasional appearance. Compression noise and pixellation were not evident.
The audio is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, although other than variances in volume (DTS being louder as usual) there wasn't a noticeable degree of differences between both matrices (French 5.1 and Spanish 2.0 audio tracks are also included ). The front soundfield exposed a great deal of depth and fidelity, with great punch in the LFE channel and excellent separation. Dialog sounded crisp and natural. Surrounds were used sparingly but effectively, highlighting the audio presentation with effective ambience and background audio imagery. While the experience of the film might have benefited from a more aggressive audio presentation, the audio on this DVD does not disappoint.
Jonathan Demme provides a feature-length audio commentary, and while I wasn't a fan of the film I was really entertained by his comments. His love of classic foreign cinema and the original film is readily apparent. Demme is a lively, entertaining presence on this track, and I found myself fascinated by his perspectives on this film, its cinematic style, and behind-the-scenes bits on the film's production.
The Making of The Truth About Charlie is a fourteen minute featurette that interviews members of the cast and crew behind the making of the film. It's brief but relatively enjoyable, although not achieving the level of depth that you can find in the commentary.
On the flip-side of this DVD is perhaps my favorite extra, Stanley Donen's original masterpiece Charade. Although completely featureless (especially in comparison with Criterion's wonderful and unfortunately out-of-print DVD of the film), it boasts a solid transfer that beats Criterion's because of its anamorphic enhancement. One hour and fifty-four minutes of cinematic gold!
Rounding out the supplements are nearly twelve minutes of Deleted Scenes, the film's Theatrical Trailer, some rather fluffy Production Notes, and biographical information in the Cast and Filmmaker section.
OK, it's painfully obvious by now: I'm not a fan of The Truth About Charlie. But if you are, this film is worth your while. The presentation of the film is very good indeed, and the extras are entertaining and informative. In a nutshell, if you liked the film, you'll really enjoy the DVD. For those of you who are curious about the film, I would recommend a rental first.
But… and this is a BIG but…
If you're looking for Charade, and you can't find Criterion's disc or you want one with an anamorphic transfer, you might want to invest in this DVD. In fact, you could view this as a bare-bones Charade disc with The Truth About Charlie is a bonus feature. Your choice. As it stands, I'm sticking to my "Rent It" advice. There's something here for fans of both films, although not enough to make an overall strong recommendation for this DVD.