Tuesday 10 July 2012

Movie Review: Legal Eagles (1986)

A clumsy legal thriller with a ham-fisted romantic triangle of sorts, Legal Eagles packs the screen with star power and little else. Robert Redford, Debra Winger and Daryl Hannah are attractive to watch, but even they cannot save a bungling story light on ideas and heavy on absurdities.

When Chelsea Deardon was a child, she survived a deliberate fire that killed her father, a famous artist. Now a young woman still living in New York City, Chelsea (Hannah) is arrested and accused of stealing artwork that used to belong to her father. To complicate matters, the theft victim is art dealer Victor Taft (Terence Stamp), her father's former business partner, and the artwork that Chelsea allegedly stole was supposed to have been destroyed in the fire.

Chelsea retains defence lawyer Laura Kelly (Winger) to represent her, and she immediately locks horns with Assistant District Attorney Tom Logan (Redford) who is prosecuting the case. Taft mysteriously drops all charges and blows up a storage warehouse in a fiery explosion, while a former police detective (Brian Dennehy) who investigated the Deardon fire pops up with all sorts of insurance fraud accusations, prompting Laura and Tom to team up and dig deeper into the case. Dead bodies soon start turning up, with Chelsea always closest to the latest crime scene. Chelsea also finds her way into Logan's bed, much to the disgust of Laura.

The few good moments in Legal Eagles revolve around Debra Winger. She brings Laura Kelly to life with sweet sincerity, an insecure woman attempting to create a tough persona to survive and compete in a man's work. Winger mixes inner tenderness and self-doubt with an awareness of the need to role-play, and delivers her performance with a sparkle sorely missing in the rest of the movie.

Robert Redford cruises through Legal Eagles playing on his irresistible charm, a man on an unimpeded path to success and capable of attracting any woman. It's a performance as predictable as it is lazy. Daryl Hannah combines the innocence of the mermaid role from Splash with her dangerous gymnast moves from Blade Runner, but she is poorly served by a script that desperately requires Chelsea Deardon to be a suspect and strains all logic to place her in peril with the law. Terence Stamp and Brian Dennehy stick to the tried and true slimy snarling of secondary characters with secrets to keep.

Other than the inflated salaries, it is hard to understand where director Ivan Reitman managed to spend the $40 million budget, a fortune by 1986 standards. The action on the screen is contrived and tepid, the romantic entanglements obvious, the attempts at comic banter uniformly flat, and the legal elements almost ridiculous. Legal Eagles should have been thrown out of court for being a frivolous waste of time and resources.

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