Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Film Review: V.I. WARSHAWSKI (1991, Jeff Kanew)

Stars: 3.8 of 5.
Running Time: 89 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Kathleen Turner (ROMANCING THE STONE, PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED, SERIAL MOM), Jay O. Sanders (JFK, GLORY), Charles Durning (SHARKY'S MACHINE, HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS), Wayne Knight (Newman on SEINFELD, JURASSIC PARK), Stephen Root (OFFICE SPACE, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN), Nancy Paul (LIFEFORCE, SHEENA QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE), Angela Goethals (HOME ALONE, JERRY MAGUIRE). Directed by Jeff Kanew (REVENGE OF THE NERDS, TROOP BEVERLY HILLS). Music by Randy Edelman (GHOSTBUSTERS II, KINDERGARTEN COP). Cinematography by Jan Kiesser (FRIGHT NIGHT, SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL).
Tag-line: "V.I. Warshawski: A private detective with a name as tough as she is."
Best one-liner: "Murray, have you ever seen what I can do with a nutcracker?"

The consensus is that V.I. WARSHAWSKI is not a good movie. The consensus hates V.I. WARSHAWSKI. The consensus sees the Hollywood Pictures logo and cries out in despair, "If you see the Sphinx, it stinks!" But the consensus is wrong. The world needs V.I. WARSHAWSKI. It needs Randy Edelman's almost nonstop, wall-to-wall strains of sleazy saxophone. It needs its comforting 80's Chicago trappings, soaked in Old Style and sitting in an apartment with a terrific view of Wrigley Field. It needs its TV-movie style mystery and cornball comedic stylings. It's like RUNNING SCARED meets MURDER, SHE WROTE with a hearty dash of SERIAL MOM. This is a good thing.

V.I. WARSHAWSKI achieves the impossible: a private-eye/buddy-kid flick that doesn't make one's hair stand on end. For a film whose major throughline is the mispronunciation of our heroine's surname, that says quite a lot. Though WARSHAWSKI may occasionally veer into one-liner territory that's a little too clever for its own good, dammit, it's never "precious." And I'm not gonna lie, WARSHAWSKI– that means a lot. Sure, Kathleen Turner spends half the flick teamed up with a scrappy teen (Angela Goethals), but she threatens bodily harm against children on at least a dozen occasions, muttering (drunken?) lines like "Be back by midnight, or I sell the kid!" Ohhh– and that's right– I just said Kathleen Turner.


You didn't know that? Shame on you. Get ready for America's husky-voiced sweetheart to charm the pants offa ya, and then smash yer nuts– quite literally, on more than one occasion. She attempts a Southern accent, partakes in a motorboat chase,

hoses down the bad guys ("Thanks for the use of your hose." –"She can use my hose anytime."), diffuses an office stand-off by threatening to unplug a computer that hasn't saved its files in hours, seduces a hockey player (like Carla on CHEERS?), and gets punched in the face, brutally, by Wayne Knight (famous for being SEINFELD's 'Newwwwwwman!' and JURASSIC PARK's 'Nyut-nyut-uh! You didn't say the magic word').

Kathleen Turner, one-liner at the ready.

But don't worry, ball-crushing aficionados, Kathleen wreaks hideous revenge upon her chubby nemesis with an actual nutcracker.


Wayne Knight, mere nanoseconds away from the business end of a nutcracker.

Yes, friends, this is a great movie.

And all the supporting character archetypes are here, too. We got Jay O. Sanders as a self-described "mild-mannered reporter" and sometime sidekick/love interest, a supporting villain with an (art? metallurgy?) studio, an overreaching villain who may or may not be a land developer, and the legendary Charles Durning as the gruff and fatherly cop-type who invariably urges restraint but ends up helping our private eye in the clutch.

Durning's first appearance involves him speaking unnecessarily through a megaphone, and at one point he trumps Kathleen Turner's "gut feeling" by proclaiming "my gut is bigger than your gut." I always applaud you, Durning. Always.

In the end, the movie bombed and averted the hoped-for series of V.I. WARSHAWSKI films (apparently there was a whole series of novels which preceded it), and retrospect hasn't been too kind either– it doesn't seem to have developed the cult following which some of its contemporaries have. For me, it's a solid second-tier buddy cop/P.I. type movie, and it can stand tall alongside the likes of ACTION JACKSON, QUIET COOL, RED HEAT, ALIEN NATION, THE ROOKIE, and a whole host of other, occasionally incredible films that are the perfect accompaniment to a profusion of beer and pizza and super-nachos on a Friday night. I bought the Blu-ray (!) of this film for a mere three dollars and fifty-cents, and though the picture quality is probably on-par with a low-to-medium-end DVD, there is a certain satisfaction in being able to say that I own V.I. WARSHAWSKI on fucking Blu-ray. How many of us even are there? How many brave souls who will step forward and admit to owning V.I. WARSHAWSKI at all, much less on the most-advanced, state-of-the-art format, because our passion for and dedication to V.I. WARSHAWSKI is so shockingly vigorous, that anything less would be simply profane! Well, I'm stepping forward, WARSHAWSKI. I'm brave enough. I am your champion. Amen.

-Sean Gill

7 comments:

Mike B. said...

Well done! I can't say it enough, we need these reviews! If not for you posting this, I might have forgotten V.I. Warshawski altogether. But now, I'm on a mission to track it down. Thanks as always, good sir, and carry on.

J.D. said...

I actually saw this in theaters belive it or not and actually enjoyed it. A solid genre but certainly nothing special but there is something comforting about its familiar beats. And the chemistry between Turner and Jay O. Sanders was quite well done, evoking the rat-a-tat-tat screwball dialogue of classic Hollywood cinema. Too bad that it never took off or was better received as it could have been a franchise starter. I could see someone like Jennifer Jason Leigh or maybe even Diane Lane doing a reboot. C'mon! It's time.

Sean Gill said...

Mike,

Thank you for the kind words; I would never want V.I.'s legacy to be forgotten.

J.D.,

There is something nice and familiar about this flick, like, in my mind, the best kinds of late 80's/early 90's TV movies. And a V.I. WARSHAWSKI reboot would be kind of amazing. I could really get behind that!

Anonymous said...

I'm just about to watch it. Sounds like a decent genre movie, and Kathleen Turner is always a plus. Thanks for getting me pumped up with this review!

Sean Gill said...

Anon.,

Glad you enjoyed the review– you'll have to let me know what you think of the film!

Anonymous said...

I'm the anon from before.

I don't get why this movie gets such a bad rep. I'm a fan of genre cinema, and it's a very decent genre flick. It doesn't drag, Kathleen Turner has enough screen presence to make up for the evident lack of story, the 'trying a bit too hard, but still hilarious' humor is enough to make up for the evident lack of story, and the action sequences are almost enough to make up for the evident lack of story.

It also has that distinct late '80s/early '90s feel I love, especially the cinematography and the soundtrack. Lots of movies made in the early '90s have traces of the '80s in them, eg. "Hard to Kill." "V.I. Warshawski" is one of them. You watch it and you can immediately tell it was made between 1989-1991.

Great review and a great little movie. I was skeptical about seeing this movie at first because I'd read some bad reviews on the Internet, but your review turned things around. It made me want to see it. This is how you write a review in order to get people to SEE a movie.

Sean Gill said...

Anon.,

Definitely in agreement with you– and I, too, love that early 90s-80s infused vibe, also present in such fare as POINT BREAK, STONE COLD, OUT FOR JUSTICE, DOUBLE IMPACT, and countless others. I'm glad that my review made you take the plunge on Ms. Warshawski!