Mark Wahlberg | Meryl Streep | Michael Jackson | Vivian Green

The Truth About Marky Mark

Forget about Madonna and Swept Away. The biggest bust this fall from a major studio is most likely going to be The Truth About Charlie, starring Mark Wahlberg, Thandie Newton and Tim Robbins. The Universal film took in a measly $5.2 million in 24 unpleasant days of release. It will end its run today, consigned to video stores and trivia books.

Charlie was a remake of a classic movie called Charade, which starred Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Wahlberg was woefully miscast in the Grant role, and Newton did her best but could not overcome the script's — and Wahlberg's — glaring deficiencies.

With a large supporting cast comprising many well-known names (Robbins, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Stephen Dillane), an expensive score by Rachel Portman and lots of location shooting in France, Charlie could finish up about $50 million in the red for Universal.

Wahlberg, who started strong in Boogie Nights but has had trouble becoming a leading man, takes on another remake next, this one of The Italian Job. Again he will have a strong second in Edward Norton, but Norton doesn't even want to make the movie — he's being forced, thanks to a contractual obligation. If the one-time Marky Mark — who acted like cardboard in Planet of the Apes and Rock Star — can't make a go of this one, watch for him to head to action-adventure movies or television.

Meryl Streep in the Weirdest Movie of the Year

It's a good thing for Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze that they got the best actress in the world, Meryl Streep, for their new movie. Adaptation, their follow-up to Being John Malkovich, qualifies as the weirdest movie of the past two years — and maybe next year, too.

Some people who've seen it think Adaptation is the best movie of 2002, while others are scratching their heads. I'm somewhere in the middle, although I do think it's kind of brilliant, and that Streep, Nicolas Cage and Chris Cooper give wonderful performances.

Kaufman, who wrote BJM, was supposed to adapt a book called The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean for the screen. He was never able to pull it off, so he wrote instead a movie about how he couldn't do it. At the same time, Orlean and the subject of her book are characters in the movie. So, in a way, Kaufman did adapt the book after all. Get it?

Even if you don't, it doesn't matter. Kaufman invents a fictitious twin brother for himself, a more successful but shallow screenwriter who takes a course with the real-life screenwriting guru Robert McKee (played by Brian Cox). McKee, in reality, runs these screenwriting workshops in Los Angeles for which aspiring writers pay lots of money to learn how to write a formula script. Initially, Adaptation seems to be highly critical of McKee, implying that his screenplays are nothing but methodical, empty, commercial and crass, but later you're left wondering if indeed it wasn't endorsing his methods anyway. McKee, for his part, has embraced Adaptation fully. He's already touting it on his website.

Cage is creepily good, as usual, as the twin brothers, making yet another weirdo seem attractive in his disconnectedness. His inner monologues will be amusing to real writers and other artists. Cooper, who doesn't have front teeth in his role as the orchid grower Orlean pursues in Florida, gives just the latest of many textured performances (check him out in his best movie, Lone Star).

But it's Streep who is so compelling and refreshing as Orlean. She really hits a home run in the role, even when the story becomes extremely convoluted. The part requires her to change tone about three-quarters of the way through (I say without giving anything away) and it's her immense ability to create sympathy for a character that makes this even partially feasible. She deserves nominations for Oscar, Globe, etc., and my guess is she will get them.

So now the interest will be in Charlie Kaufman, who wrote this, Being John Malkovich, last summer's Human Nature and the upcoming Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. That means three of his screenplays — all inventive, quite odd and lots of fun — were produced in 2002. It must be a record. None of them, by the way, would have made it through Robert McKee's workshop.

Jacko's Dangling Principles Cause Concern

I've been getting a lot of calls over the last couple of days concerning Michael Jackson and his baby-dangling episode in Berlin. What's going on, people want to know?

I'll tell you what: he's crazy. It doesn't take a gossip columnist to tell you that. Damaged since childhood by ambitious parents, Jackson has gone from one bad episode to another. You almost have to feel sorry for him, except now he's potentially harming babies. That is even worse than maybe his trouble with 12-year-olds.

The baby Michael dangled his third child, named, strangely, Prince Michael II. From the pictures, the baby is obviously Caucasian and not African-American, just like Jackson's two older children. Unlike Paris and Prince Michael I, the mother of this one does not seem to be Debbie Rowe, to whom Jackson was briefly married.

How scary is it that he dangled the kid from a fourth floor window? Very. But how much scarier is that the baby's head was covered with a cloth, as was the head of Jackson's other son. They were both being exhibited by Jackson to his fans below. And exhibited is the key word, isn't it? All three of these children have been acquired or obtained for purposes other than the normal creation of a family. Like the animals and rides at Neverland, they are on display for Jackson's amusement. And that's more worrisome than of the other crazy things we've reported about him this year.

Whitney, Mariah Hear Vivian Green's Footsteps

Almost by accident I got to hear a new CD by a singer named Vivian Green last weekend. It was in a pile of promotional CD's and I threw it into my CD case. What a shock when I put it on! This 23-year-old performer from Philadelphia can actually sing. I mean, she hits the note and no holds it. No yodeling. What Alicia Keys and India.Arie were last year, Vivian Green is for 2003.

Her album is called A Love Story and there isn't a dud of a track on the whole thing. The really crazy story here is that this is on Columbia Records, where Donnie Ienner has apparently groomed Green and gotten her ready for stardom. Will her project take off? Time will tell, along with the greasing of some palms at radio stations. But stay tuned, because the Best New Artist of 2003 has possibly just been spotted — and right in the nick of time.