An Old Affair Revisited

Like every movie warren beatty has produced, Love Affair is made with skill, the participation of topnotch talents and considerable taste. There are times, however, when good taste can get in your way. Why do another remake of the sentimental classics ""Love Affair'' and ""An Affair to Remember'' (both directed by Leo McCarey, in 1939 and 1957) if you're not prepared to wallow in four-hankie heaven? Beatty, who stars and co-wrote the script with Robert Towne (Glenn Gordon Caron directs), follows the originals' plot line with great fidelity, with a sprinkling of contemporary details to drag it into the '90s. He's a former pro quarterback and notorious womanizer engaged to a TV talk-show host (Kate Capshaw). On a flight to Australia he meets the woman of his dreams -- piano teacher Terry McKay (Annette Bening), herself engaged to marry a wealthy financier (Pierce Brosnan). The plane crash-lands on a Pacific island; the two embark on a ship for Tahiti, fall in love and vow to meet in three months atop the Empire State Building. If you don't know what happens next, you didn't see ""Sleepless in Seattle.''

Aside from the autobiographical echoes -- famous philanderer discovers monogamy late in the day -- Beatty offers no fresh take. The movie, bathed in soft focus, is as reticent about sex as the Cary Grant/ Deborah Kerr version, and half as romantic. The only fun is in the lively first third: Beatty and Bening are at their best in push-pull seduction mode, when they can be a bit naughty. But once the couple clinch their bond -- just when the story gets really shameless -- the life drains out of the movie. ""Love Affair'' takes such pains to dodge vulgarity it forgets to put anything in its place.