THE BAR proves a grand place for courtship, particularly for the bickering that precedes the woo. Tracy and Hepburn conquered the milieu with "Adam's Rib," and now Robert Redford and Debra Winger approach the bench in "Legal Eagles," a slick courtroom comedy inspired by the definitive dueling duo. Tracy and Hepburn they're not, but they have their charms.
Redford, at his most boyish, and Winger, at her most hoydenish, play longtime opponents -- a conservative assistant d.a. and an aggressive criminal lawyer -- who find themselves on the same side in a high-profile murder trial. Daryl Hannah costars as the diaphanous defendant, a seductive performance artist accused of murdering a gallery owner and noted arts patron.
Hannah writes and performs her own mixed-media act -- a new direction for the acrobatic Hannah, but certainly nothing for Laurie Anderson to worry about. Redford, intrigued with the fey artiste's, ah, body of work and badgered by her attorney, reluctantly joins Winger for the defense. The incompatible couple turn gumshoe to solve the mystery, which provides the structure for the romantic comedy.
The mystery, a bit predictable, has its sly twists, but domestic asides between Redford and his daughter, while sweet, slow the pace and hamper the action. The time would have been better spent developing the romantic tension between Winger and Redford.
Redford, always more charismatic playing alone or opposite another male lead, is better matched with Winger here than he was with Meryl Streep in "Out of Africa." Still, they're a little on the precious side as they spat and squabble, these lawyers in love.
Winger's work is tough and spunky, but her vital sensuality is stifled for the sake of her character, with the help of a horrible hairdo. Redford is at his most affable since the Sundance days, but he is a man of action cast in a cutesy, klutzy role. Hannah is her usual spacey, ethereal self, but I liked her better with fins. (Brian Dennehy, the most ubiquitous man in film, costars as a mysterious police detective and Terence Stamp is an officious art dealer.)
Obviously, producer-director Ivan Reitman is trying for a vintage tone, a sophisticated approach to comedy that's new to the director of "Ghostbusters" and "Meatballs." If anything, his touch is a mite too delicate.
There are some scenes that rival any in recent memory -- Winger and Hannah escaping a flaming finale in a burning gallery and Winger and Redford escaping an exploding warehouse -- but the whole is less than its parts, a little too careful. Kind of like dinner theater. LEGAL EAGLES (PG) -- At area theaters.