From the Hip (1987) / Comedy-Mystery

MPAA Rated: PG for language, some graphic descriptions of violence, and innuendo (probably PG-13 today)
Running time: 95 min.

Cast: Judd Nelson, Elizabeth Perkins, John Hurt, Darren McGavin, Dan Monahan, David Alan Grier, Nancy Marchand, Allan Arbus, Edward Winter, Richard Zobel, Ray Walston, Robert Irvin Elliott, Beatrice Winde
Director: Bob Clark
Screenplay: Bob Clark, David E. Kelley

Review published August 18, 2007

Judd Nelson (Steel, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) stars as Robin 'Stormy' Weathers, fresh out of law school and hungry to take on some big cases.  Tired of having to slog through menial office work for a successful law firm, he finagles his way into earning himself an open-and-shut battery case, in which he wins using his charm, wit, and energy during the trial -- and a few unethical things that could get him disbarred if revealed.  His success in that case makes him a media darling as well, which draws the attention of accused murderer Douglas Benoit (Hurt, 1984), who wants the young lawyer's sense of style to help him prevail against overwhelming circumstantial evidence and a lack of alibi. Weathers is clearly in over his head in his first real case, and he struggles with the ethics of defending a man he suspects could have done the deed he is accused of -- not to mention his client is a pompous ass who does little to help exonerate himself.

From the Hip is one of those films I struggle with, as it is all over the place in tone such that it can make for some frustrating viewing, but I think that it contains enough good elements to make a worthwhile experience overall.  The screenplay is co-written by David E. Kelley (To Gillian on her 37th Birthday), who would go on to create some very popular television shows revolving around law, including "The Practice", "Ally McBeal", and "Boston Legal".  His work on From the Hip is said to have earned him a spot as writer for "L.A. Law", in which he would eventually serve as executive producer.  Although the comic situations and liberal amount of grandstanding in this film seem too absurd to take seriously as ever being done in a court room (a sequence where Weathers smashes up courtroom furniture with a hammer would have gotten him tossed immediately, perhaps indefinitely), Kelley's grasp of law and legal procedure keeps Bob Clark's (Black Christmas, A Christmas Story) tendency for broad visual humor from becoming too farcical to take the serious tone of the film in the second half at face value. 

Judd Nelson hasn't had many starring roles, but he does breathe good life into his role as Weathers, doing a fine job in breaking out of the shadow, just for the moment, of his memorable turn as John Bender from The Breakfast Club, perhaps the role he will always be known for.  His energy, particularly in scenes where he does some fast talking in the courtroom, sells the rather larger-than-life character, and the internal struggles he possesses about what he is doing makes him sympathetic enough to know he isn't just a smart-ass out to make a mockery of the legal system for self-aggrandizement.  A solid supporting cast back him up, including Bob Clark faves Darren McGavin (Billy Madison, Raw Deal) and Dan Monahan (Up the Creek, Porky's II), plus Elizabeth Perkins (About Last Night, Big) in a refreshing role of a supportive fiancée who isn't a mere plot device. 

Some critics might have a tendency to malign the film due to Bob Clark's involvement, particularly because his other recent work included the first two Porky's films and the Sylvester Stallone/Dolly Parton misfire, Rhinestone.  While some of Weathers' antics strain the film's credibility as far as court proceedings go, at least the reactions of the players and court attendants are believable enough to keep the film within the realm of reality.  Though it runs a wide gamut in tone, it holds together to the end, and Clark does extract solid performances from his players, with an especially great one from John Hurt.  It would be ludicrous to expect an Academy Award nomination for work in a film this screwball, Hurt's turn here is no less impressive than any of the more serious roles he's had in his fine career.

From the Hip is much like 'Stormy' Weathers himself, wanting to have it both ways in terms of entertaining you enough to get you on its side despite the lack of substance.  One thing's for sure, it does hold your attention, a does offer up some interesting dialogue about ethics and duty, even if it can become risible a little more often than not.  As a comedy, it's often entertaining, and as a drama, it's often engrossing, but as an attempt at both, it can be considerably uneven.  Still, like any court case, it's all about whether you get a verdict in your favor in the end, and my verdict of From the Hip ends up a positive one, based on its style more so than its substance.

Qwipster's rating:

©2007 Vince Leo