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EXECS AND THE SINGLE GIRL

Four decades and a year after Humphrey Bogart won Audrey Hepburn's hand in a sparkling comedy of manners called Sabrina, Sydney Pollack has tempted fate with a $50 million remake. Luckily, Pollack's been around: The man who directed Tootsie, Absence of Malice and Out of Africa wasn't afraid to pay homage to Billy Wilder's classic--and he wasn't afraid to shake up the story when life in the Nineties called for it. The result is a romantic entertainment that deserves a spot on the winner's podium alongside the original.

Julia Ormond, who mightily disturbed three brothers in Legends of the Fall, may not have quite the delicate splendor of young Audrey, but she makes a fine chauffeur's daughter, thank you, full of all the right lovelorn Cinderella daydreams. When the ugly duckling returns from a holiday in Paris with a new coif, a suitcase full of fashions and a freshly polished confidence, we have no trouble believing that the girl who lives over the garage can now turn the heads of both well-heeled brothers up in the big house--the feckless, Ferrari-driving playboy Sabrina's always loved and the sober businessman who comes to love her.

Happily, that's NBC talk-show host Greg Kinnear in the feathery Bill Holden role of yore--not Tom Cruise, whose dance card was full. As David Larrabee, Kinnear strikes just the right balance of self-absorption, empty-headedness and synthetic, rich-boy charm. (Come to think of it, maybe Cruise would have been perfect.)

But this is Harrison Ford's movie, just as it was Bogart's in 1954. Ford's Linus Larrabee, a joyless magnate cast in the dour mold of his father (and his great-grandfather), comes equipped with a black bow tie and a dry wit and looks to the future with all the verve of an accountant poring over the ledger sheet. To Linus, love is contract, marriage is merger and the laws of business are the laws of life. So it's his renovation that commands most of our attention, despite the movie's title.

Naturally, the little Sabrina the Larrabee boys used to ignore comes to afflict both their hearts--but not before screenwriters Barbara Benedek and David Rayfiel give us some updated bon mots on class warfare in America and the follies by which people wish for all the wrong things. Heavily wooed now by David (who's inconveniently engaged to another woman), Sabrina fairly melts, while Linus observes: "A day or two of that and she'd fall for Noriega."

The only thing Linus wants to fall for is a corner on some new fiber-optics technology, but romantic self-realization shares every corner of Sabrina with the jokes, just as before. Who are we to argue with that?

Meanwhile, Pollack's supporting cast shines: Nancy Marchand as the tough-and-tender Larrabee matriarch, John Wood as Sabrina's long-suffering dad and, best of all, Angie Dickinson as a lame-brained ex-stewardess (they're called "flight attendants" these days, she's told) who's climbed a few social ladders herself.

Sabrina nouvelle has a few sappy puddles, particularly in Paris, but, as Linus Larrabee at last concludes: "A breeze has swept through the old house." Only a cur would not feel refreshed.

 
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