Are Some Films Better the Second Time Around?

Robert Redford, Debra Winger, Daryl Hannah, Brian Dennehy. Directed by Ivan Reitman. Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 (letterbox). Dolby Digital 2.0 (Dolby Surround). 116 minutes. 1986. Universal ID4287US. Rated PG. $29.95.

Legal Eagles hit theaters in 1986, winced from a harsh critical spanking, and died quickly. Tempests between its big-name cast and equally notable director were well-chronicled and plastered on every fanzine cover. Director Ivan Reitman was lambasted by reviewers and opted to return to his groove---the Ghostbusters oeuvre---from which he had garnered his most lucrative hit.

Yet time has healed all these wounds, and it turns out to be fun, if eminently forgettable, to watch Legal Eagles more than a decade later. It's a guilty pleasure: Robert Redford, who stars as assistant district attorney Tom Logan, has an easy affability that belies the world's nasty, constricted view of lawyers. Debra Winger plays his Kate Hepburn-esque rival, eccentric lawyer Laura Kelly, who's fraught with emotional disorders and internal chaos. Then there's Daryl Hannah, an offbeat casting choice for the role of Chelsea Deardon, a trendy Manhattan performance artist who seduces Tom---most importantly, into taking on her case.

Deardon is the daughter of a famous painter who died a mysterious death in a fire years before. She was raised by her father's business associate, Victor Taft (Terence Stamp), who now owns a prestigious art gallery in an upscale New York neighborhood. She is accused of stealing her father's work from Taft; a painting, she says, that Dad inscribed to her on a childhood birthday, and that rightfully belongs to her. Logan lands the case, and suddenly he's stuck with a partner, Laura Kelly---a frequent courtroom adversary who becomes an invaluable resource and nuisance in both Chelsea's trial and Tom's personal life.

Of course, Tom and Laura eventually fall for each other. It hardly matters that he's a dull egomaniac and she's a basket case. Still, Winger is the partner who should have done better in this mild movie miasma.

If nothing else, Legal Eagles teems with style. Cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs lights New York with bewitching cleanliness, line, and light, and Elmer Bernstein's score lends just the right touch of grace and---when called for---ominous foreboding. After all, this is a comedic murder mystery. Unfortunately, Legal Eagles earns most of its laughs unintentionally in places that are supposed to be taken seriously.

The mysteries in this elementary-school script aren't very mysterious, and the suspense isn't very suspenseful, but Legal Eagles is a pleasure to watch, if only because everything and everyone in the film is so attractive. Manhattan shines and glistens, there's nary a garbage can in the street, and Tom's suits are Armani-perfect. Chelsea's loft is so Soho-cool and spacious that we immediately want to move in. Only Winger suffers in her cramped little apartment, saddled with scenes that make her stuff raw hot-dogs down her gullet; no wonder she was said to be a pain in the ass on the set.

The film's transfer to DVD makes for gorgeous slumming with its beautiful panoramas of New York and sculpted cast. The soundtrack, enhanced to Dolby Digital 2.0, sounds sharper than it did in its initial release. Too bad the folks at Dolby haven't figured out a way to enhance movie scripts.