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By Merle Bertrand | October 18, 1999

Laura and Quinn, on the surface the paragon of squeaky clean, yuppie Stepford couple-dom, are hosting another barbecue. Their friends Evan and Monica are in attendance as are the recently widowed Jude (Karen Black) and Barry (Jack Scalia), a rowdy, hunky new guy from the shipping department. But what seems an ordinary suburban weekend cookout soon turns into anything but. Jude’s wealthy late husband was kidnapped and murdered and she’s got a theory as to who did it. When Barry, an obnoxiously hyperactive lout, breaks in on a nosy neighbor, it sets a chain of events in motion which ultimately reveals who the killer was. Like we care. Here’s a movie that isn’t half as clever as it thinks it is. While exploring the seamy secrets of society’s suburban ciphers, “Charades” doesn’t lay its cards out on the table and invite you to play along like a good mystery should. There’s no flowing, cohesive story for us to unwrap. Instead, “Charades” essentially cheats. It either subjects us to Black’s incessant jabbering, which tells us all the important plot points rather than letting the movie show us, thus violating the first rule of good screen writing, or we see crappy, bonk-on-the-head flashback sequences which spoon feed us mindless sloths just enough strategically pre-selected tidbits to tie up the loose ends.
“Charades” has all the prerequisites for a straight to video release. Lots of gun play. Abundant boobage. B Movie staples Black, Scalia, C. Thomas Howell and “Baywatch”‘s Erika Elenick in the cast. Even a laughable attempt at a one-line catch-phrase. But that’s it. Director Stephen Eckleberry should just get busy calling video distributors and leave unsuspecting festival folk alone.

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