The V.I. Stands for “Who Cares”.
DIRECTED BY JEFF KANEW/1991
STREET DATE: FEBRUARY 13, 2018/KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
What does V.I. stand for? The question is a running gag that never quite goes anywhere. In that sense, it’s ideal for this movie.
Not that V.I. Warshawski is an out and out bad movie, per se… it’s just kind of there. A critical and box office boat anchor when it hit in the summer of 1991, this is an old school superstar vehicle that turned out to be nothing more than a tepid potboiler. The negative reception deep-sixed not just the movie, but the “major player” phase of the career of Kathleen Turner. This is Turner at what turned out to be the peak of her movie star powers, before being so rudely derailed by the weight gain of rheumatoid arthritis, and this movie. The time between her big splash in 1981’s Body Heat and V.I. Warshawski amounts to only a mere decade of name-above-the-title prominence, if that. Kind of a shocking thought for those of us who came of age watching her in Romancing the Stone and hearing her provide the sultry voice of Jessica Rabbit. Strange to think that there are now a couple of generations that likely have no notion of Kathleen Turner: Movie Star.
Kathleen Turner, as author Sara Paretsky’s private eye character, leans into the part quite well.
With V.I. Warshawski, it was never not about her. From the marketing on down to the movie itself (somehow seeming like an afterthought, even all these years later), the entirety of the V.I. Warshawski movie experience is Turner, looking assured, in control, dangerous with that gun, and, above all, sexy. To varying degrees, most of those things challenge the actuality of the character herself, who is a struggling professional single woman in Chicago who has to either borrow her knock-out shoes, or skip lunch for two months to buy a pair. But never mind that – the tag line goes, “Killer eyes. Killer legs. Killer instinct.”
Too bad there was no killer premise. The plot, immediately forgettable, sticks Turner’s hard livin’ tough-as-nails gal with a trouble- making sass-hole tween girl, played by fresh face Angela Goethals. (Even the director dismissed this aspect as “the Paper Moon thing”). Their amusingly antagonistic wisecracking act quickly takes a downward turn when the girl’s father is blown up one night on a pier. Wayne Knight turns up a crooked threat of some sort, and Jay O. Sanders is Warshawkski’s on-again/off-again love interest. (Here, mostly off-again). Apparently the flip tone the film struggles to maintain is an affront to the tone of the source material, but frankly, the movie could use more of it.
Turner, as author Sara Paretsky’s private eye character, leans into the part quite well. She’s got the right blend of wit, gravitas and experience to fully sell Warshawski as the feminist identifier that Paretsky no doubt intended. Problem is, the whole notion of that feminism is basically adrift in the male utilitarian world of 1991 Hollywood and, more specifically, Tough Guys Director, Jeff Kanew. It doesn’t help that Kanew’s approach to this hoped-for franchise launcher was televisual blah with dashes of ugly. The film is filthy and cluttered, demonstrating the production design panache of a Walmart forklift driver.
The most obvious draw for acquiring this blu-ray, as opposed to one of the less expensive previous pressings that are available, is the newly recorded audio commentary with director Jeff Kanew. Surprisingly terse and forthright by audio commentary standards, naming names of people he doesn’t like and admitting he’s no visual stylist, Kanew is essentially being interviewed by an unnamed enthusiastic academic film critic. As Kanew goes out of his way to avoid any and all possible indications of pretension, ala some kind of bargain basement John Ford, his interviewer repeatedly can’t resist interjecting his observations on what symbolisms might be woven in. And every time, the gravelly voice of Kanew won’t even let the guy finish the thought.
“Whatever you’re about to say, it was completely unintentional. We were just making a movie about how hard it is to be a woman in a man’s world.” “Never underestimate a man’s ability to underestimate a woman”, goes the only good line in the film. Amid the “killer legs” ad campaign and attitude, that bit of dialogue would have to be accepted as a partial win for progressives at the time.
V.I. Warshawski, as a toxic star vehicle, proves to be a moderate blip. Nothing more than the single clack of a stiletto heel in a distant hallway of yore, the movie evaporated before you know you’ve even watched it. For whatever it’s worth, the blu-ray looks as respectable as anyone could want, although who knows how it compares to previous blu-ray releases. Or more to the point, who cares.