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Film review: Born Yesterday

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Judy Holliday won an Oscar for her portrayal of blonde bimbo Billie Dawn in the 1950 film version of Garson Kanin's funny play, "Born Yesterday."

But it might just be that Melanie Griffith was also born to the role, as it seems to fit her like a glove. And not just the "dumb blonde" aspects. Griffith projects the intelligence necessary to show Billie's growth as she transforms after a rapid "Pygmalion" education.

But the real surprise here is Don Johnson, who is cast against his macho, rock-'em, sock-'em image, as Paul Verrall, the conservative Washington reporter who gives Billie that education. He is warm and appealing, confident but not physical — especially when he's up against burly John Goodman as Harry Brock, the millionaire who "owns" Billie.

The story has Harry traveling to Washington to bribe a few senators so a military base will remain open, thereby keeping Harry's nearby shopping mall a viable investment. With him are Billie, a former Las Vegas showgirl, and attorney Ed Devery (Edward Herr-mann).

That Harry and Ed are up to no good is completely lost on innocent, naive Billie, even when she is signing a number of legal papers that she doesn't understand. But it's not lost on Harry and Ed that she is a liability when she attends Washington parties and reveals that she is lacking even the most rudimentary social skills, much less an understanding of government.

Ed wants to send her home, but Harry wants her around. So, against Ed's advice, Harry hires Paul as a high-paid tutor. Paul is reluctant, but it's apparent he's drawn to Billie — not the money.

The results are fairly predictable, even if you haven't seen the original film. But the screenplay, by Douglas McGrath (TV's "Saturday Night Live"), is peppered with clever updated political gags and some lively, amusing exchanges. The famous gin rummy scene is recreated here, but the riotous highlight is when Billie teaches the senators and their wives at a dinner party how to memorize the amendments to the Constitution.

The cast is terrific, with Goodman giving an especially notable, complex interpretation of Harry.

But the director, Luis Mandoki ("Gaby — A True Story," "White Palace"), doesn't have the light comic touch that could make "Born Yesterday" the hilarious comedy it deserves to be. His heavy hand undermines much of the comic potential here and the film occasionally drags.

Still, there are some good laughs and fans of the stars certainly won't be disappointed.

"Born Yesterday" is rated PG for some profanity and one scene of violence.