I’ve only really spent time in a courtroom once in my life. I ended up with jury duty and after a jury selection process that was essentially an hour-long game of musical chairs, I ended up with the last seat in the box. Then, after a day of listening to the trial, the jury was sent off to deliberate and I was told to stay in my seat. I was the alternate. I sat there all that time for nothing. I admit, the process was somewhat interesting, but it was nowhere near as theatrical as what I’d been prepared for watching countless courtroom movies and tv shows. Real life lawyers are not remotely as cocky and brash as the type Judd Nelson plays in the 1987 legal comedy From the Hip.
Nelson plays Robin “Stormy” Weathers, a recent law school graduate who, though employed by a firm, is anxious to move past his entry-level tasks and actually take something to trial. He plays a few tricks to get himself to try a case involving a bank president being sued by a board member for having punched him. It’s a no win case, the guy admits he did it. However, Weathers antics result in the trial being stretched out, much to the dismay of the judge (Ray Walston). By the time the trial ends, Weathers has turned the case into a national news story and ends up winning in the end. He is now the most in demand lawyer at the firm.
There’s a problem, though. It turns out that Weathers conspired with the prosecutor to put on a good show that would make both of them look good. Weathers gets a partnership in the firm, the other guy ends up assistant DA. Weathers’ new popularity soon ends up landing him a case involving a professor (John Hurt) accused of murder, and most likely guilty. The young lawyer is determined to get a not guilty verdict no matter what, but when he realizes his client is guilty of the brutal murder he decides to try and goad him into confessing while on the stand.
From the Hip was directed by Bob Clark, perhaps the only director in movie history to get an annual 24-hour marathon of one of his films, A Christmas Story, played back to back to back on a major cable channel. He also directed the likes of Baby Geniuses. From the Hip falls somewhere in between. It certainly has its share of funny moments, but it struggles quite a bit to move beyond being an endless stream of courtroom scenes.
This film is another example of how some of the 80’s brat packers struggled a bit with more adult roles. It’s hard to escape the fact that Nelson looks more like he should be on the high school debate team than giving closing remarks to a jury. It also doesn’t help that I didn’t find Nelson’s character to be particularly likeable. Let’s face it, he gets his first case through lying and trickery. He wins his first case by scheming with the other lawyer…which I’m pretty sure is illegal. There’s one brief moment where he expresses some regret over this to his girlfriend (Elizabeth Perkins), but it’s quickly pushed aside and he continues on with his wacky ways. He never has any repercussions from his sneaky way of getting to the top.
Now, did you notice that I didn’t mention Elizabeth Perkins until just now? I mean, she’s a major actress and all…what gives? Here’s the problem, though: she’s given nothing to do! Someone decided that our lead character needed a girlfriend and so they gave him one, but she has no impact on the story. For much of the film she simply sits in the audience of the courtroom and watches…which is not only boring but also raises the question of why isn’t she at work? I was also really bugged by Ray Walston’s performance as the stereotypical short-fused judge. He throws temper tantrums that rival those of the average three-year-old. I did enjoy John Hurt, however, who ends up being quite creepy in this relatively light-hearted film.
I don’t think From the Hip is a bad film, but it relies a bit too much on the viewer being won over by Nelson’s slick young attorney character. Unfortunately it just didn’t work on me. It manages to be funny here and there but also gets way too bogged down in legal mumbo jumbo.