Sabrina (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

These days, Hollywood seems to be almost entirely bankrupt of new ideas. For bursts of inspiration or innovation, the movie-goer increasingly has to seek out independent motion pictures. What we are getting more and more from the big studios is a flood of sequels, films based on novels, films based on TV series, remakes, or a combination of the above. Sabrina joins this list as the latest classic whose script and cast have been updated for the '90s -- although in the case of this variation on the Cinderella tale, the story admittedly has a certain timeless quality.

In general, I approach romances with a great deal of skepticism, principally because it's so easy to mess up this kind of movie. Love is a difficult emotion to effectively capture on film, and, too often, screen romances look like two actors going through the motions. Happily, with Sabrina, that's not the case. Despite the unambitious, formula-driven plot, wonderful performances by Julia Ormond and, especially, Harrison Ford keep this remake afloat.

I would never claim that Sabrina is one of 1995's best romantic movies (although it is an improvement on the overrated The American President). Its plot-by-numbers story doesn't offer much in the way of surprises, and it doesn't have the emotional power of a Leaving Las Vegas or the euphoric quality of The Brothers McMullen. But Sabrina is fun in its own way, and, though clearly flawed, it nevertheless offers two hours' solid diversion (the overlong running time, by the way, is one of those flaws).

The title character, Sabrina Fairchild (Ormond), is the daughter of the Larrabee family's chauffeur (John Wood). Since she was little, Sabrina has had a crush on the youngest Larrabee son, David (Greg Kinnear), a dashing playboy. Unfortunately for her, David doesn't really know she exists. So, when Sabrina goes off to Paris to change her life (and appearance), she still harbors her passion in secret. When, after "finding herself" abroad, she returns home and dazzles David with her new glamour and self-possession, she sees a chance for her dreams to become real. But complications arise -- David is engaged to a wealthy pediatrician (Lauren Holly), and the marriage will seal a major merger between the Larrabee Corporation and Tyson Electronics. David's older brother, Linus (Harrison Ford), the "living heart donor" head of the corporation, won't allow his brother's flirtation with Sabrina to endanger the deal, so, in the best interests of business, he makes a play for her. Unfortunately, Linus gets in over his head and the cold, calculating businessman discovers that he does indeed have a heart.

In 1954, Audrey Hepburn was Sabrina. While Julia Ormond is no Hepburn, she possesses the kind of luminous screen presence which allows us to accept her part in this modern-day fairy tale. Harrison Ford, taking over for Humphrey Bogart, is very good as Linus, carefully mixing pathos, cruelty, and compassion into a surprisingly complex personality. The weakest of the main performers is Greg Kinnear (in the William Holden part), who is more of a personality than an actor -- and, at times, this shows. Of the supporting players, only veteran actor John Wood is worthy of special note. The rest of the cast do adequate, but not noteworthy, jobs.

In 1991's Regarding Henry, Harrison Ford's character was transformed from a heartless man to a loving husband by a bullet to the head. Here, the personality change is similar, but it happens in a more believable fashion, and the motivator -- love -- seems far less contrived. It's not really that difficult to defend Sabrina, despite its numerous faults. Even though it isn't as good as the original 1954 version, this movie, brought to the screen by director Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa), simply has too much romantic appeal and on-screen chemistry to be dismissed as "just another" in the ever-growing pool of remakes.

Sabrina (United States, 1995)

Run Time: 2:07
U.S. Release Date: 1995-12-15
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Nothing Objectionable)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1