Cinema: Sinderella

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Directed by Garry Marshall

Screenplay by J.F. Lawton

No one has yet made a romantic comedy in which, say, a toxic-waste dumper falls for a terrorist hijacker. (They meet cute in an airport check-in line, and she's got a bomb in her luggage.) But Pretty Woman comes close to finding the least admirable characters to build a feel-good movie around. Richard Gere is Edward, a corporate raider who gobbles up companies and spits them out in divestible chunks. Julia Roberts is Vivian, a Los Angeles hooker whom Edward hires as his some-sex, no-love escort for the week.

J.F. Lawton's script sweats bullets to prove that these two are lovable folks with much to teach each other in matters of class and conscience. But Edward has them pegged: "We both screw people for money." So does this movie. A ticket to Pretty Woman buys you mechanical titillation and predictable twists. Is Vivian thrown out of a snooty Rodeo Drive boutique? Count the minutes (which seem like hours) before she sails back with Edward and the store's clerks are toadying to her.

Last year Garry Marshall directed a brisk, witty movie starring Bette Midler as a lottery winner who chases her elusive ticket through Manhattan. The film, shown daily at Disney-MGM Studios park in Florida, lasts three minutes. Beyond that length Marshall has trouble freshening a familiar theme. But maybe predictability is the point of Pretty Woman, which may be a hit just because it descends to its audience's expectations. This is old-fashioned, assembly- line moviemaking without the old panache. It makes one ask, Can't the Japanese do it better? Couldn't anybody?