French twist

A Paris widow uncovers layers of lies in 'Truth About Charlie'

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When a movie is called "The Truth About Charlie," it's a good bet that both the truth and Charlie will have something slippery about them.

In this sense, Jonathan Demme's new picture doesn't disappoint. It's lively in other respects too, although there's not much going on beneath its energy-filled surface.

We first meet Charlie in the aftermath of a romantic tryst on a European train. But don't get too attached to him, because he's one of the story's least important characters.

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The heroine is his wife, Regina, who lives in Paris and is anything but pleased when her husband's abrupt death makes her the heir to a hidden multimillion-dollar legacy. The problem isn't that she misses her spouse very much – they were married only a few months, and he spent most of that time on the road. It turns out she didn't even know his real name.

What disturbs her is the violent attention she's now attracting from a long list of interested parties, including a French police inspector and a United States' government agent.

Charlie's wealth didn't come from respectable sources, she discovers, and Paris is positively swarming with folks who think they have more right to it than she does. She'd be in a real quandary if she hadn't just met a friendly American who promises to help her sort things out.

He seems reliable – or is he yet another scam artist hoping to grab the loot for himself?

Like its title character, "The Truth About Charlie" has more than one identity. On the most obvious level, it's very much a Demme film, telling a fast-moving story with enough power-packed images and eye-spinning editing to assure you it came from the director of "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Married to the Mob." It's also a remake of "Charade," the Hollywood romp starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. And it's a heartfelt homage to a bygone kind of French filmmaking, full of movie-buff references to Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, who forged a new approach to gangster yarns in '60s classics like "Breathless" and "Shoot the Piano Player."

With all these layers, plus a story with more hidden corners than a crooked Paris alleyway, "The Truth About Charlie" has something for everyone – except moviegoers who enjoy some degree of emotional depth along the way.

Thandie Newton is delicious as Regina, and Mark Wahlberg is deftly ambiguous as her helpful American friend. There's little chemistry between them, though, and the story is so busy springing surprises that it forgets to develop much feeling. You may gasp at sudden revelations and even squirm with suspense from time to time. But there's little chance you'll shed a sentimental tear, and by the second hour you may stop caring what happens as long as Regina comes out OK.

So chalk this razzle-dazzle chase picture up as effective Friday-night entertainment, not the heart-stirring romantic thriller it might have been. That's the real truth about "Charlie."

• Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual innuendo.

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