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‘Sabrina’ (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 15, 1995

Sydney Pollack's "Sabrina" is a swallow of flat champagne compared with Billy Wilder's bubbly 1954 version of the lightheaded, Long Island Cinderella story. Not that the original was Dom Perignon, but it did sparkle and fizz. Witty dialogue, a dizzy pace and Audrey Hepburn's elfin charm disguised the story's insipidity. The remake, alas, must mask its failings with Julia Ormond's toothsomeness, Pollack's poky pacing and the uninspired scribblings of writers Barbara Benedek and David Rayfiel.

Ormond plays the chauffeur's gawky daughter, who goes unnoticed by the playboy son of her father's employer till she returns from a sojourn in Paris with a new hairdo, contact lenses, self-confidence and a revamped wardrobe. Eh, voila! Not only is the now-engaged David Larrabee (Greg Kinnear) smitten, but seemingly so is his older bachelor brother, Linus (Harrison Ford), a workaholic who runs the family's communications empire.

At first, Linus is wooing Sabrina only to distract her from the irrepressible David, whose pending marriage is crucial to a billion-dollar merger. But as Linus spends more and more time with the insouciant Sabrina, "the world's only living heart donor" begins to feel twinges in his chest. However, it may be too late for the amyl nitrite of love.

Ford, his hair as lifeless as his performance, seems to be reprising his role in "Regarding Henry"—after Henry got shot in the head. Sure his character is supposed to be a little stiff, but he should at least have reflexes. (Humphrey Bogart, who played Linus in Wilder's "Sabrina," mined the role for comedy, a tactic that Ford and the writers wrongly abandon midway through the film.)

Ormond, so radiant and animated in "Legends of the Fall," doesn't so much develop her character as change her clothes. Sabrina leaves for France in retro-fitted Annie Hall wear, but returns to Long Island wearing a big hat and a fitted black pantsuit. While the outfit doesn't compare to the glam garb Givenchy designed for Hepburn, it transforms Sabrina so thoroughly that David Larrabee doesn't even recognize her at first.

Kinnear, the host of NBC's "Later," recalls Dick Clark in his sunny acting debut, though the film belongs to supporting actresses Nancy Marchand as the Larrabee family's acerbic matriarch and Dana Ivey as Linus's crisply efficient and unrelentingly sarcastic secretary. Even the bloated Angie Dickinson has her moments as a former airline stewardess and David's mother-in-law-to-be. She makes no bones about it: She married for money.

Sabrina at least opts for love. It's just not the intoxicating kind.

Sabrina is rated PG.

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