Punch-Drunk Love. Paul Thomas Anderson, 90 minutes runtime, and Adam Sandler. An unlikely combination, but strangely enjoyable, even if it was fairly slight on the plot front. And I loved the Philip Seymour Hoffman scenes (if only because twenty or so minutes in, I started wondering, 'where's Hoffman?', and he turned up in the next scene). Anderson has got a lovely eye for beautiful shots, exemplified by the gorgeous Hawaii reunion scene that forms part of the poster for the film. Don't be put off by the presence of Sandler; he's rather restrained here. And quite funny. Shocking, I know. Never underestimate the power of pudding, that's all I'm saying.
Now, I admit that I'm probably not the best person to give an opinion on this film; Charade is one of my favourite movies. It has a great mystery, solid and twisted plotting, superb pacing provided by Stanley Donen's direction, a typically excellent Mancini score, and fantastic dialogue delivered by two actors who light up the screen with their wit and charm. The Truth About Charlie takes all this and manages to produce a dull, soulless facsimile, albeit with the correct copyright notice this time around. Remember Ronan Keating's cover of A Fairytale of New York? Yes. It's that bad.
The structure of Peter Stone's screenplay has been almost completely removed from the film. The cold opening of the original is replaced with a less interesting expanded version of Charlie's death, which manages to tell us as much in three minutes as Donen did in thirty seconds. It then follows the original (roughly) right up until the end of the police station scene. After that, Charlie veers away from Stone's script, sometimes lifting little pieces of dialogue, but not much more. The discovery of the secret is handled very differently (due to some important parts of exposition and foreshadowing being left out of the new film), and manages to lose quite a bit of the impact in contrast to the original. And then there's the ending, of which I'll complain about later.
The worst flaw of the film is that it completely changes the relationship between the two leads. In Charade, Hepburn and Grant spend the film trading barbs and bickering to comic effect. In Charlie, Wahlberg looks like he's having trouble remembering what country he's in, never mind his lines, and while Thandie Newton gives the best performance in the film, the new script saddles her with terrible dialogue (has any British person in the last ten years asked for a 'ciggie'? Do we really need "he was an orphan - an only child"?), and not much to do but look lost, as all the witty exchanges found in the original screenplay have been removed from the update.
So, the leads aren't interesting. What about the bad guys? Well, they've received a make-over, with one now being Asian, and another a woman. No problems with that. Except they seem to do a lot less than they did in the original, and are far less menacing. Ho-hum. It didn't need the part where Regina seems to feel sorry for the woman, either (after all, she had spent most of the film prior to that point threatening her life).
I understand that Demme wanted to recreate the film using the techniques of the French New Wave movement. It even sounds like a perfectly reasonable idea. However, after thirty minutes, I wanted to get a rivet gun and bolt the camera to the ground. There comes a point where it's no longer clever and fun, just plain irritating.
And what about the ending? Now, it would be fairly simple to follow the original ending, wouldn't it? After all, it was fairly suspenseful and entertaining. Or, I suppose, you can construct one of the most ludicrous Mexican stand-off scenes for many years, complete with a ham-fisted resolution. Oh, wait. And, just for kicks, you could eliminate the final surprise of the film, making the coda seem like dead weight. You will? Thanks.
Please go see Punch-Drunk Love instead. I would suggest that you get a copy of the excellent Criterion Charade DVD, which has a wonderful commentary by Donen and Stone as part of the extras. I would, but as part of the making of The Truth About Charlie, Universal revoked the rights to their Charade print from Criterion, so the DVD is now out-of-print. Which, of course, makes me dislike the new film even more, or at least the group at Universal who thought that it would be fun to withdraw the print. The useless, cretinous morons.
Yes, I'm biased. But there were a few other people in the theatre as well, who probably don't have the same interest/obsession (delete as applicable), and they came out saying it was one of the worst films they had seen for a long time. Remember, we need to stop Wahlberg now, before he starts on The Italian Job....