Kathleen Turner as "V.I. Warshawski". Not tough enough? No way.
V.I. Warshawski (1991). Starring Kathleen Turner and Charles Durning.
Overall ratings on this movie that I have seen on the internet run about
50 percent in favor and 50 percent thinking it week or simply bad. Well,
here's my opinion.
I liked the movie. It isn't perfect (see below), but I liked it. And I
especially like Turner in the role. She was tough and sassy, and she
had the guts not to be afraid to look really unattractive in it at
times. Lying on the couch nursing her wounds she has the guts to show a
lot of pale leg with some cellulite. Tough. That's the way real women
are sometimes. Kudos to Turner.
The Thrilling Detective web site gives a negative review to this movie.
I think the criticism in the main stems from comparisons with Paretsky's
novels. But they also criticise Turner's character as coming across as
"just a big, warm, comfy femme fatale…with hair about two sizes too big."
Also, that she comes across like Mary Tyler Moore. With all due respect,
I have to differ on this one. Mary Tyler Moore? — No way.
Granted that Turner's P.I. is not the coolish-tempered investigator that
Burton admires in Paretsky's novels. She doesn't have close-cropped hair
and wear slacks and flats like women cops usually do these days on
television. But that doesn't mean that she isn't tough and fully worthy
of being taken seriously in the hard-boiled sense. I had no problem
believing that Turner can kick a little ass when she has to. Attacked by
two goons in her hallway she hits one of them in the face with a light-
bulb she is carrying and rams the other guy's head into a bannister.
They subdue her eventually, but it ain't easy. Then they take her back
to meet with her old high-school chum who she consistently calls
"Bonehead" and who beats the hell of her. And she takes it tough. Any
P.I. has got to be able to take some rough treatment every once in a
while — female or not.
As for her clothing and hair, they're just typical period for Chicago in
the 90's. There is of course her thing with the special red shoes that
they gratuitously throw into it. But I don't have any problem with that
either. And as far as her apartment goes, it's a mess and she doesn't
care. Her car is a piece of crap that even the neighborhood punks
wouldn't want to steal. She uses her dad's old police revolver — a
really nice touch.
The plot follows the serial-plot formula of hard-boiled fiction, with
Turner's character pushing herself through the case and interviewing
informants and getting in people's faces until the case comes to
a head and all the facts finally come out. It's not a great plot, but
it's not a bad one, either.
Nevertheless there were a few things I didn't like about the movie. The
top gripe is the humor — it is just really bad, with lots of references
to male testicles and what she could or would do with them if she gets
the chance (and at one point she does get the chance and unfortunately
the scriptwriters go for the low road). I realize that Raymond Chandler
wasn't available to help out with the sassy dialog, but it could have
been better. A lot better. In fact this movie would have merited a 4 GU
rating were it not for the crappy humor bringing it down a notch.
The second thing I didn't like about the movie follows closely on
that — the writers threw in a lot of stuff that seems just faux-
feminist, like the line in which Warshawski tells Kat to "Never
underestimate a man's ability to underestimate a female." That just
comes across as weak. The real feminist thrust in this movie is
Warshawski's job and the way she handles things — just like any man
would. That's the point. At the beginning of the movie she turns down a
high-paying case because she suspects that the client expects some
hanky-panky with her — that's the issue and that's a classic hard-
boiled thing to do translated to the world of a female P.I.
Let's look at is this way: When was the last time you saw a movie about
a really hard-boiled female P.I.? Helen Mirren in "Prime Suspect" was
tough and smart, as have been a lot of female cops portrayed
recently — but they're not private detectives. Turner's V.I. Warshawshi
may not be Paretsky's, but she's a pretty good gumshoe nonetheless.
P.M.P.I. RATING (OUT OF 5)