Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond struggle mightily with the burden of their own profession’s history in “Sabrina,” a remake that leaves the viewer wondering: “Why bother?”
Billy Wilder’s source-film, a 1954 adaptation of Samuel Taylor’s stage play, is one of the great eccentricities of postwar Hollywood: a “Cinderella”-meets-“Pygmalion” fantasy that makes perfect sense of an unlikely romantic teaming - a naturally vivacious Audrey Hepburn with a naturally gloomy Humphrey Bogart.
The Wilder version holds up so well, in fact, that Sydney Pollack’s newly opened rehash seems not only superfluous but also painfully contrived. Ormond, last seen to richer dramatic effect in “Legends of the Fall” (1994), radiates class but lacks the gaminesque quality that animated Hepburn. Ford is handily Bogart’s equal as a commanding screen presence, but he has to work to achieve the dour disposition that was the stock-in-trade of Bogart in the ‘50s.
And this sense of struggle makes Pollack’s “Sabrina” seem a whole lot more like work than like fun.
Sabrina is a timid little commoner who has grown up longing for the rich-as-Croesus lifestyle of her father’s employers, the Larrabee family. This clan of Long Island robber barons buys and sells pieces of America the way some people play a game of Monopoly. Neither brother so much as gives Sabrina a second look, until she transforms herself during a stay in Europe.
Playboy brother David (Greg Kinnear, in the film’s most effortlessly engaging performance) falls promptly for the revamped Sabrina, but a romance here would botch an important merger of wealthy families. So grumpy brother Linus (Ford) grudgingly undertakes to court Sabrina.
The character’s romantic awakening is supposed to be charming, but Ford forces the grumpy act a bit much; Ormond’s overkill involves striving to act irresistibly chipper.
The story is, of course, a great deal of fun, and the very effort put forth by the stars is admirable. But as for a filmgoing choice, the recommendation from here is to rent the videocassette of the original “Sabrina” - and wait for the video edition of this version.
MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “Sabrina” Location: Lincoln Heights, Newport and Coeur d’Alene cinemas Credits: Directed by Sydney Pollack; starring Harrison Ford, Julia Ormond Running time: 2:04 Rating: PG 2. Other views Here’s what other critics say about “Sabrina:” Jay Boyar/Orlando Sentinel: This new “Sabrina” stresses the material’s Cinderella love story - the part, that is, that was corny and somewhat dated even in the ‘50s. What director Sydney Pollack and his screenwriters (Barbara Benedek and David Rayfiel) have done is a little like redesigning the Ford Pinto and keeping the unfortunate old gas tank. Duane Byrge/The Hollywood Reporter: It’s not initially love and marriage, but, rather, mergers and marriage as Billy Wilder’s 1954 “Sabrina” goes trippingly into the ‘90s in this intelligent, luminous remake, starring Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond. Sumptuously mounted and sparkling with dry mirth, this fantasy romance from director Sydney Pollack should win holiday hearts. In a cinematic year, awash with grisly serial murder sagas, heartless pyrotechnics and explosive excess, the eye is awakened here with the sight of orchestras on the lawn, lush gardens, Paris at nightfall and, most of all, the heart opened to characters with a propriety and decency that makes us want them to overcome their human flaws. Beginning with a scrumptious opening shot high overhead the lavish, Long Island mansion of the Larrabee clan, director Pollack transports us into the realm of a fantasy world and story, that is, nevertheless set smack dab in the NASDAQ age.