Picks and Pans Review: Pretty Woman

updated 04/09/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/09/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Julia Roberts, Richard Gere

Too cute? By half. Too naive? Right out of an old-style Disney movie. Too many close-ups of Roberts looking too gorgeous? Watch out! Here comes another one! Too obvious? You have five seconds to figure out what happens after a handsome, rich, single man hires an uneducated though wildly beautiful prostitute as an escort for business reasons.

Despite its cornball attributes—maybe because of them—this is a sweetheart of an old-fashioned romantic comedy.

The film's charm derives mostly from its cast. Roberts transmits a tingly energy and a contagious spirit of fun. Gere is astonishingly subdued—and astonishingly effective—as a work-obsessed New York City corporate raider who is softened by Roberts's lack of guile (one of the naive parts) after he hires her to accompany him to social events while he's in Los Angeles.

The supporting players are crucial too. Hector (The Flamingo Kid) Elizondo, as the manager of a swanky hotel who helps coach Roberts out of her slatternly behavior, is a marvel of sly scene-stealing. Ralph Bellamy, sturdy of voice and still a model of dignity at 85, elegantly plays the owner of a business that Gere wants to buy.

Jason (Brighton Beach Memoirs) Alexander sleazes things up as Gere's unscrupulous lawyer, and Laura (sex, lies and videotape) San Giacomo, as Roberts's roommate and colleague of the streets, is likably crude, gaudy and gold-hearted (though a shot of San Giacomo sleeping with a teddy bear is one of the egregiously cute moments).

The love story, self-consciously fairytale-like as it is, is hard to resist. Let's de-emphasize the "comedy" part of "romantic comedy" though.

Director Garry (Beaches) Marshall and his first-time screenwriter, J.F. Lawton, offer no comic insight, nothing approaching the satirical truths of the in some ways similar Working Girl. Instead they rely heavily on clunky, get-even jokes directed at easy targets.

"What makes you think I'm a lawyer?" Gere asks Roberts. "You've got that sharp, useless look about you," she says. "Stores are never kind to people," Gere says. "They're kind to credit cards."

"We need a lot more people sucking up to us," Gere tells a Beverly Hills boutique owner, who replies, "If I may say so, sir, you're in the right store—and the right city—for that."

By the time we get to the boy-loses-girl, guess-what-happens-next part, however, the romantic illusion generated by Gere and Roberts is triumphant. It is so triumphant, it can overcome even the most cynically unfeeling of curmudgeons, someone who has considered the likelihood of the prince actually matching up that slipper with Cinderella and calculated the odds against it, which are 14,373,298 to 1. (R)

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