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‘Pretty Woman’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 23, 1990

"Pretty Woman" is a working girl indeed, not just some underemployed wretch in a typing pool, but an honest-to-God streetwalking Cinderella who finds her corporate Prince Charming, a Wall Street tycoon lost along Hollywood's Boulevard of Stars. A tale of two hustlers, this romp reminds us, as if we could forget between money movies, that there is great similarity between the Street and the streets.

The movie is a hash, a Frankensteinian fantasy of great romantic moments. Written by newcomer J.F. Lawton, the comedy is a mosaic of "Moonstruck," "Splash," "The Fabulous Baker Boys," "Working Girl," "My Fair Lady" and "An Officer and a Gentleman," among others. The only thing missing is King Kong.

Julia Roberts and Richard Gere costar in this bubbly scamper, which goes to the head like champagne -- the cheap, sweet kind that leaves you with a throbbing head. And yet this monstrously derivative romance is great giddy fun. Champagne is champagne, after all, and Roberts is sheer carbonation. An Oscar nominee for her role in "Steel Magnolias," she is as exuberant as a cheerleader in the role of streetwise Vivian Ward. One of the good prostitutes, she has been driven by circumstances to sell sex, when she is rescued by Edward Lewis (Gere).

Edward, a boardroom whiz kid who has recently been dumped by yet another lover, is befuddled when it comes to the mysteries of maintaining a relationship. An emotional cheapskate, he is in turn rescued by Vivian, a bundle of cuteness to whom he plays Pygmalion. It is a chance encounter that turns into a week of fairy tale extravagance, and one assumes the usual lifetime of happily-ever-aftering. They are mutually captivated, feeding happily off one another's neediness.

Gere hasn't been this likable since sweeping Debra Winger off her feet in "An Officer and a Gentleman." But Roberts, who recalls Winger in her gawky good-naturedness, is to "Pretty Woman" what Melanie Griffith was to "Working Girl." She launches it and it launches her, no matter how trite the story. She's truly irresistible as the ungainly Vivian, a milk-fed beauty with a strong handshake and a near-infallible sense of good humor.

Directed by Garry Marshall, a veteran of TV sitcoms and movie dramedies, the movie dances along, a whirl of fashion shows and magic moments, mush and comic irony. When Edward plies Vivian with strawberries and wine, she offers a tart's response: "I appreciate the whole seduction thing, but I'm going to give you a tip. I'm a sure thing." She's full of surprises, which he says he loves even more than the garter belt.

It's cotton candy of the most commonplace and shabby fantasies spun into a frighteningly appealing gossamer. With its sure direction, captivating performances -- including supporting ones by Hector Elizondo and Laura San Giacomo -- and clever dialogue, "Pretty Woman" seduces all but the most wary. That's because the lady is a tramp.

Copyright The Washington Post

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