Picks and Pans Review: A Simple Twist of Fate

updated 09/19/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/19/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Steve Martin, Gabriel Byrne

The last time Steve Martin rethought a classic, it was Cyrano de Bergerac, and the result was the beguiling 1987 film Roxanne. This time, like legions of high school students, he has been utterly undone by Silas Marner. His attempt to update George Eliot's saga of a miser redeemed by the love of a little girl is a flaccid failure.

Martin is a reclusive cabinetmaker with a bitter past. His one friend is the tart-tongued owner of the local pawnshop (Catherine O'Hara). His one solace is counting and recounting his stash of gold coins. After a massive thicket of exposition, an enchanting towheaded toddler arrives at Martin's doorstep. He doesn't know that the child is the illegitimate daughter of the town's most powerful politico (Byrne). The little girl (played as a 10-year-old by Alana Austin) proves to be Martin's salvation. But the pair's cheery domesticity is threatened when Byrne decides to come forward and—via a tedious court fight—claim the child he abandoned at birth. Unfortunately, Martin is never quite piteous enough before Austin's arrival, the relationship between dad and adopted daughter never sufficiently transcendent, and Byrne never requisitely menacing. Ultimately viewers won't care how this movie resolves itself. They'll just want it to end already. (PG-13)"

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