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‘Sabrina’ (PG)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 15, 1995

Oold-fashioned movie magic is a tough thing to re-manufacture. That's abundantly clear in "Sabrina," Paramount Pictures' remake of the 1954 Audrey Hepburn classic. Director Sydney Pollack's movie attempts note-for-note reproductions of the highlights, with garishly updated details in others.

It's a workmanlike transmogrification from a 1950s fairy tale to a brash present-day romance. Thanks to Julia Ormond's rather delicate Sabrina and Harrison Ford's amusingly deadpan performance as Linus Larrabee, the movie certainly has its moments. But this "Sabrina" never evokes the sweet allure of Billy Wilder's original film. How could it?

In the latest movie, Sabrina Fairchild is the daughter of a British chauffeur at the prestigious Larrabee home in Long Island. She has spent most of her life idolizing David (Greg Kinnear), the youngest Larrabee son. But David, obsessed with the latest high-society woman he's set eyes on, hardly notices her.

Sabrina is sent off to France to work at Vogue magazine, where she becomes a fashion photographer and a classy woman (in the older movie, she went to cooking school in Paris). When she returns, David, who fails to recognize her at first, falls in love—at least as much as he's capable of.

Unfortunately, David is engaged to Elizabeth Tyson (Lauren Holly), whose father (Richard Crenna) heads a lucrative technology company. Linus (Ford), the oldest Larrabee son, who runs the family corporation, realizes Sabrina threatens his dream of two rich families united. Like a true businessman, he woos Sabrina to distract her from David. Predictably, cold-fish Linus falls in love.

Ford's development from all-work-and-no-play capitalist to smitten lover, is the best thing about the movie. His hangdog expressions, impeccable timing and subtly emerging humanity underline his character's ploddingly literal view of the world.

"This is a real woman," says David, after first becoming enamored of Elizabeth Tyson. "She's not a—you know."

"Transvestite?" asks Linus.

The movie, written by David Rayfiel and Barbara Benedek ("based on the film written by Billy Wilder and Samuel Taylor and Ernest Lehman," according to the credits), has some zesty dialogue. When David, who's supposed to have eyes only for his fiancee, dances cheek to cheek with the new, improved Sabrina, his future parents-in-law watch with horror.

"She's like a sister to him," says David's mother (Nancy Marchand), trying to explain away this alarming display of affection.

"I have a sister," retorts Mr. Tyson. "That's not how we dance."

Unfortunately, Linus's schemes, which include whisking Sabrina away to a beachside dreamhouse, beget a thumb-twiddling middle section. The audience, fully aware of where things are going, has to sit and wait for these slow-moving lugs to get with the romantic program. After that, "Sabrina" deteriorates into a convoluted, multiple-character farce in which everyone's real agendas come to exasperating light, and we are suddenly reminded of our wristwatches. Much of this could have been trimmed by the movie equivalent of an ellipsis. But the filmmakers force us to undergo everything, dot by excruciating dot.

SABRINA (PG) — Contains nothing offensive.

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