By Marc S. Sanders
In Legal Eagles, Robert Redford plays a promising district attorney named Tom Logan, who becomes ensnared by Debra Winger, playing a private defense lawyer named Laura Kelly. Laura is representing Chelsea Deardon (Daryl Hannah), a mysterious, but alluring twenty-something accused of stealing a priceless piece of art. Murder eventually comes into play. Romance does as well. Unfortunately, none of it works in what should have been a charming comedy from director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Stripes, Meatballs). The casting is solid. The script is not.
When this film was released in 1986, Robert Redford looked like the best option for the standard romantic comedy, to lead the fraternity of male actors eventually to come by way of Billy Crystal and Tom Hanks. Debra Winger was well known with a collection of Oscar nominations for more serious subject matter. However, she has always possessed that smart yuppie look; aggressive, professional, and ready for love. Redford and Winger make a perfect pair. The flirtations between the actors’ characters in Legal Eagles work quite successfully. The regret is that a flat, boring mystery for them to tackle is always getting in the way.
During Chelsea’s eighth birthday she is presented with a painting by her renowned artist father at a lavish party. Later that night, a fire ravishes through their apartment. Her father perishes in the flames and the painting along with other priceless pieces of art were thought to go up in flames. Jump eighteen years to present day 1986, and Chelsea insists to both Laura and Tom that some of those paintings, including her father’s gift to her were stolen before the fire occurred. Suspects are interviewed. Danger gets in the way and so on.
The problem with this initial set up is that this conundrum is pretty stale. It doesn’t offer enough to keep me interested. What do I care about a stolen painting? Moreover, I could care less about the fate of Daryl Hannah’s character. She’s designed to be the standard Olan Mills Photography glamour model of the 1980s, and she is most certainly beautiful, but she is written with as much dimension of what a thumb tack does when you push it into a wall. She just sticks there.
There are some usual suspects for the lawyers to pursue like Terence Stamp, an interesting character actor by reputation. Regrettably, his art dealer portrayal is not written with much logic. The two lawyers follow him to a warehouse and find themselves in danger when Stamp traps them inside with a ticking time bomb that will not only kill them but destroy his immense collection of assets and records. Why go through all this trouble? You’ve got some of the most valuable, sought after pieces of art tucked away in here.
Brian Dennehy is a cop who welcomes himself into the story and the “intuitive lawyers” happily accept his trust when he offers his file on the fire investigation from eighteen years prior. He just turns up at random, odd moments. Do Tom and Laura even think to wonder why this guy is so interested in assisting them all of the sudden?
What really sends Legal Eagles off the rails though is a step away from the narrative so that Robert Redford and Daryl Hannah can be caught in bed together. This serves no purpose. It’s a scene that screams of a producer demanding this happen to sell movie tickets and it betrays the intelligence any of us would expect of a sharp-witted New York City District Attorney. Even more absurd is when Redford and Hannah are awakened the next morning, she is arrested for murder. So the lawyer sleeps with the client, but no concern regarding ethics is ever questioned. As well, Winger’s character just delivers an eyeroll response to Redford’s error in judgment, but the two continue to work in flirtatious harmony. That doesn’t offer much respect for the aptitude of Winger’s character. She should be repulsed by this transgression.
Legal Eagles contains more charming and mature humor than Ivan Reitman was recognized for by this point in his career. It’s a yuppie ‘80s film. I only wished for a more insightful pursuit and storyline for Redford and Winger to be focused on while they fall for one another amid the scenic backdrop of a bustling New York City.
Daryl Hannah looks like she’s in another movie altogether. Yes, she sleeps with Redford’s character, but I don’t think Hannah has more than five lines of dialogue exchanged with either Winger or Redford. She’s expendable here. You practically forget that she’s the accused client the lawyers are working to exonerate.
The value of the missing painting is hardly stressed upon. The motive for murder really isn’t either. There are not one or two fires in the film, but rather THREE!!!! Did the craft of invention just stop after page one of the screenplay?
From a marketing standpoint, based on casting alone, this film had such potential. The movie features some of the best working talent going for it. Sadly, it gave all the players nothing to do, and what little was done lacked any kind of foresight or wit.
On the subject of Legal Eagles, my motion stands. This movie is inadmissible in court!