This Female Private Eye’s Acerbic Wit Saves The Day
I haven’t honestly experienced a ton of Kathleen Turner’s work. Nor was I particularly familiar with the name of V.I. Warshawski director Jeff Kanew, though his work (Revenge Of The Nerds, Gotcha!, Troop Beverly Hills, etc.) is familiar to me. I didn’t even know that the character of V.I. Warshawski was based on a series of popular novels by Sara Paretski. But I had always been aware of this film, and curious about it. And you know what I AM extremely familiar with? All the 1980s and 90s tough guy detective movies that this film models itself after and riffs on.
This 1991 film thrives on what distinguishes it from its ilk, however, and that would namely be Kathleen Turner and the badass female heroine she is portraying. In so many ways the murder mystery and the action tropes of this film blend in and could as easily be a tv mystery of the week. But Turner’s Warshawski is bitingly hilarious, brazenly sexy, and always the smartest one in the room.
Clearly ripe for a franchise that never came to be, this particular murder mystery has Warshawski falling hard for a former hockey pro, being introduced to his pre-teen daughter (Angela Goethals as Kat), and then taking on a caretaker role for Kat as said hockey star dies in a fiery explosion. (She’ll obviously be solving that crime as well). Introducing a plucky pre-teen and saddling a fiercely independent woman with a child surrogate could have been death knells for the film. And while there’s a bit of a sitcom flavor to the plotting here, the relationship between Kat and Warshawski ends up being touching and feminine in a unique way. Nothing in the movie necessarily feels grounded or realistic, but it does feel knowing and incisive.
There’s a hilarious banter between Warshawski and a shameless reporter named Murray (Jay O. Sanders doing great work). There’s a paternalistic (as well as paternal) relationship between Warshawski and Charles Durning’s police lieutenant. Overall, the script from Edward Taylor, David Aaron Cohen, and Nick Thiel (all men, it’s worth noting) feels paint by numbers when it comes to the mystery, but something else entirely when it comes to character work and comedy. All these relationships in the movie feel lived in and could have sustained a nice little trilogy of Warshawski-centered murder mystery movies. There’s a knowing glance of exhaustion in Turner’s eyes throughout as she traverses a world in which she is ALWAYS more capable and intelligent than any man, but yet patronized at every turn. Turner plays the role hilariously, and it’s impressive that a script that venerates Warshawski at the expense of a bunch of dudes came from a bunch of dudes in 1991. Apparently audiences weren’t quite ready for it as the film did not take off at the box office.
On top of being a pretty hilarious watch and a perfect fit for Turner, there’s fun in spotting a bunch of young talent that would also go on to do other projects such as veteran character actors Wayne Knight and Stephen Root. I laughed out loud several times, and had a blast with Turner and what she brought to the role. At the same time it had an overall feel of a disposable murder mystery/hard-boiled private eye yarn in all the areas outside of Warshawski herself. It’s a solid film that I enjoyed watching and can recommend for the perfect match of character to actor in Kathleen Turner as Warshawski and for some of the other great character work and biting exchanges. As a murder mystery or action thriller it’s a dime novel at best.
Accompanied by a commentary track featuring director Jeff Kanew and an interviewer tasked with keeping Kanew conversational, I have to say this was one of the oddest commentary tracks I’ve ever heard. Kanew comes off as dismissive and confrontational with the person interviewing him, regularly criticising the way the interviewer is guiding the conversation, interrupting, and dismissing much of what the interviewer says. It’s honestly uncomfortable to listen to. In a way, it makes the commentary track something different and almost makes it worth a listen. But I don’t come away feeling like Kanew is anything more than a bit of a jerk these days, though perhaps an incisive one.
Regardless, this is a solid film that I could go either way on recommending. On the one hand, you’ll only get this bizarre commentary track if you purchase this release. On the other hand, the movie is not essential viewing in the slightest. Fans of Kathleen Turner or the Warshawski novels, or female-led action fare will probably all want to pick this release up.
And I’m Out.
V.I. Warshawski is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Studio Classics