I love this movie. I just watched it again, and I loved it all over again. V. I. Warshawski only has a 4.3 rating on IMDB and a 3.6 on Rotten Tomatoes. The critics panned it when it was released in 1991 and it was only in theatres about three weeks or so. To be succinct, it bombed. (And it’s continuing to bomb on DVD.) But ya know, sometimes it’s not about excellence in moviemaking, it’s about pure enjoyment of delightful movie moments. In V. I. Warshawksi the fantastic Kathleen Turner plays the tough girl PI, the characters swap wise-cracking dialogue, and most of the key roles are excellently cast. Okay, the plot is dumb. I’ll give you that.
The utter failure of the movie was mostly due to two major issues. One is that Warshawski in the movie is not a very accurate representation of Sarah Paretsky’s character in her books, which makes the movie immediately suspect to fans of the books. When that is the case the rest of the movie needs to hit a home run in order to keep those fans in the ballpark, which didn’t happen. The other issue, as already mentioned, is that the plot is dumb. It was very basic, with no twists, no surprises, no suspense, and highly questionable motives and choice of murder target.
I also believe that another issue was that Warshawski is so tough. While many people might not have readily admitted it, this might have been a just as important, but more subconscious, reason than the ones listed above. Remember, this was pre-Xena and pre-Buffy. Kick-ass girls were not something audiences were accustomed to seeing on either the big or little screen. Cagney and Lacey could hold their own as police detectives, but no one ever accused them of being action heroes.
People weren’t quite ready for it. And not only could V. I. kick some serious ass, she was portrayed in the same manner as the tough-as-nails, wise-cracking male PIs famous in noir movies and classic detective novels. This is something that I’m not sure even current audiences are ready to embrace. I remember my dad making snide remarks about the scene in the movie where Vic is being slapped around by two thugs. He didn’t think it was believable for her to be punched in the face and then crack wise about it. Funny how he never made the same comments about male characters in other movies.
So why do I love the movie despite its admitted faults? For one thing, I saw it long before I had read any Paretsky novels, so I didn’t have any preconceived notions about the character. For the movie role as written, Turner is right on the money all the way through. For another thing, the chemistry between Turner, Goethals (Kat), and Sanders (Murray) is exactly what movie chemistry should be. Their timing and delivery when two or all three of them are in scenes together is almost impeccable. I pretty much grin or laugh out loud the entire time they’re on screen. And while the plot is very subpar, I still enjoy watching V. I.’s investigating, in this case going by the rule of detecting, “follow the money”.
The casting of Charles Durning as the old family cop friend, Wayne Knight as the homeroom classmate turned thug, and Stephen Meadows in his brief role as Boom Boom Grafalk was also well done. Even the minor thugs and a cabbie with very expressive eyes in a rear view mirror were excellent picks. Casting can make or break a movie and this one is highly underrated in that department. The only real casting weaknesses were Boom Boom’s two brothers. The fact that they were key to the mystery is definitely a drawback.
The bottom line for me is that V.I. Warshawski is just plain fun to watch. I don’t watch it for the lame plot. The plot is just background noise. This is a movie that is best experienced through the dialogue and character interactions. And it has Kathleen Turner cracking wise with her oh-so-sexy voice while kicking booty and outsmarting the bad guys. Besides, can any movie that contains the line, “Never underestimate a man’s ability to underestimate a woman” be that bad?
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