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Ephron offers an appealing update of a classic charmer

Unlike the recent Meet Joe Black, which retold Death Takes a Holiday (1934), with You've Got Mail Ephron gives full credit to the original's writers. And unlike many remakes -- most notoriously the recent Psycho -- it isn't simply a rip-off the earlier movie; she's taking one of the central ideas and spinning a new story around it. She's added Joe's and Kathleen's lovers as characters; she's changed the two principals' relationship from co-workers to business rivals; and by making Joe a mogul she's tossed out the original's concern with the lives of the "little people."

While one has to respect her decisions, they also make the movie a disappointment when compared with its model. For its first third the movie's wit and charm work only in fits and starts: The opening credit sequence is wonderful; the scene of Joe spending the day with a pair of kids drags badly. The occasional use of "comedy" music in the score, presumably to shore up sagging scenes, only makes things worse. Ultimately, the screenplay lacks the gemlike near-perfection of The Shop Around the Corner.

And then suddenly, roughly 45 minutes in, there's a scene that elevates the movie, generating the loudest laughs and deepest emotions. It is, in fact, the one scene that is lifted almost line for line from Samson Raphaelson's 58-year-old screenplay, when Joe realizes Shopgirl's real identity. It encapsulates both the best and worst of Ephron's work: Her admirable decision to make something basically new, and her perhaps inevitable inability to make that something come close to the brilliance of Lubitsch and Raphaelson.

You've Got Mail.
Rated PG.
Directed by Nora Ephron. With Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Greg Kinnear and Parker Posey.

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