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Paris Lite

A knowledge of the '60s French New Wave isn't a requirement for viewing Jonathan Demme's "The Truth About Charlie," but it will definitely enhance the experience. Demme's breezy homage has a stylish, off-the-cuff spontaneity that owes much more to "Breathless" and "Shoot the Piano Player" than it does to the romantic thriller it's actually based on--Stanley Donen's beloved 1963 "Charade" starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.

Thandie Newton, radiating charm, takes the Hepburn role as a young woman who returns to Paris to find her husband murdered, her apartment looted and her life endangered. The late Charlie, she finds, was not who he appeared to be--and neither is anyone else, including white knight Joshua Peters (Mark Wahlberg), who rescues her from peril with suspicious frequency.

Demme obviously wanted to get as far away from Grant as possible when he cast Wahlberg, but the role still calls for a debonair smoothie. The actor "stays within himself," as the sports guys say, but he gives too colorless a performance for the jeu d'esprit Demme has in mind. Demme's filmmaking, set to an infectious world-music beat, is a delight. The trouble is, there's nothing much at stake. "Charade" had a real sense of peril to off set the comedy and romance. Demme's movie is so benign--he likes all his characters, even the villains--it feels like a game of "let's pretend." It's a movie for movie lovers--playful, hip and light as a feather.

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