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All over the map -- it doesn't know what it wants to be
At a recent Q & A session, director Jonathan Demme said he had a difficult time finding the right tone the film. Having seen the picture, I can tell you -- he still hasn't found it.
The movie, a remake of the 1963 Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn classic Charade, may take place mostly in Paris, but it's really all over the map. It doesn't know what it wants to be. Is it a comedy? Is it a romance? Is it a thriller? For a time it tries to be all of the above -- and fails at each one.
Demme, speaking to an audience in Philadelphia following an advance screening, said the movie could have gone in vastly different directions in the editing room. For example, another version could have been much funnier. I don't doubt it. There are some good elements in place.
Mark Wahlberg, stepping into the Cary Grant role, is surprisingly debonair. This role officially puts him light-years away from his early '90s white-rapper persona. Don't get me wrong, he's still no Cary Grant -- but watching him in this film, you can easily see him as an American James Bond.
Following in Audrey Hepburn's heels is the to-die-for Thandie Newton. Combining beauty, sophistication, elegance and vulnerability, Newton more than succeeds in bringing a Hepburn-like quality to her character. She also gets boatloads more screen time than Wahlberg, which isn't a bad thing considering she's the best thing in the movie.
If only the story didn't fall apart in the second act, as all tension and suspense evaporates. Things come back together in the third act, but it's too late.
The movie also exceeds its quota of cliches. For instance, how many times have you seen foreigners in movies begin conversations in another language -- only to switch into perfect English after a couple of sentences? Well, in this movie, get ready to see it again... and again.
Then there's the car accident scene -- we hear squealing brakes and crunching metal off-screen, then Demme actually gives us a shot of a hub cap rolling across the street! The movie gives us no indication these bits are meant to be tongue-in-cheek.
There is one terrific foot chase that Demme admits is inspired by Run Lola Run. The scene has energy, suspense, humor and fun -- all things the rest of the movie tries, but fails to achieve.
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