Picks and Pans Review: Legal Eagles

updated 06/30/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/30/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Robert Redford turns 50 next year, and in this eager-to-please comedy-thriller, his 25th film in 25 years as a screen actor, you can tell he wants to party. It's about time. The super-hero stiffs he's been playing the past decade have made us forget the glory days of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Way We Were and The Sting. Aging (not badly but visibly), anxious about increasingly vicious critical raps and a diminishing hold on the box office, Redford has obviously decided to try to lighten up. In Legal Eagles he plays a nervous, insomnia-racked assistant D.A., the first mere mortal he's portrayed since 1967's Barefoot in the Park. He tap dances in the bathroom, croons an off-key chorus of Singin' in the Rain, makes a mess as a single father cooking breakfast for his teenage daughter (Jennie Dundas), romances a feisty colleague (Debra Winger), jumps in the sack with Winger's leggy client (Splash's Daryl Hannah), gets dumped in the East River (yes, those golden locks do get mussed) and risks death trying to solve a complicated case of art fraud and murder. The part was originally intended for Bill Murray but Ivan Reitman, who directed Murray in Stripes, Meatballs and Ghostbusters, reworked the role for Redford. The teaming of schlock director and class-act star sounds better than it plays. Redford looks uncomfortable when the slapstick turns too broad, and all those ga-ga close-ups work against humanizing his character. The script by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr., whose first effort-Top Gun—is a box office skyrocket, presents another kind of problem. Trying for the kind of sophisticated comedy-romance Tracy and Hepburn did so splendidly, most notably as sparring lawyers in 1949's Adam's Rib, Cash and Epps get the surface right, yet muff the feeling. The film, set in the Manhattan art scene, has a luster the dialogue can't match. Winger, a take-charge actress who seems incapable of making a false move on camera, gets more sparks out of Redford than any of his co-stars since Streisand. Their appealingly unhurried relationship serves to remind us of what we've been missing since teenage-sex comedies drove witty adult romance off the screen. But too often Redford and Winger are obscured by Reitman's pyrotechnics (this film has more fire scenes than The Towering Inferno). Legal Eagles should have uncorked, virtually unchallenged, as the champagne of summer comedies. Too bad that it all too quickly runs out of fizz. (PG)

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