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V.I. Warshawski

Kino // R // February 13, 2018
List Price: $17.94 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted March 23, 2018 | E-mail the Author
In 10 Words or Less
Kathleen Turner as a tough-stuff female P.I.

Note: Images in this review are for illustrative purposes only, and do not reflect the quality of the disc.

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Several of Jeff Kanew's films, comedies, honest commentaries
Likes: Early Kathleen Turner, detective stories
Dislikes: films light on plot
Hates: Rampant sexism

The Movie
Maybe people weren't ready for a tough-as-nails female investigator back in 1991. Maybe there was too much comedy for a straight detective story or too few laughs for a comedy. Maybe V.I. Warshawski just isn't that good of a movie. Whatever the case, the film tanked hard and--along with the effect of health issues--just about ended Kathleen Turner's career as a movie star, though she'd still turn in great performances in Serial Mom and The Virgin Suicides. Not unlike Katherine Heigl's try with Janet Evanovich's literary heroine, Turner's attempt to bring Sara Peretsky's detective to the screen was dead on arrival.

It's certainly not Turner's fault though. As V.I. (a set of initials the private dick makes many jokes out of), she's a pretty perfect fit, believable as a brassy Chicago broad and able to sling a quip with the best of them. Unsuccessful in business and relationships, she has a case fall in her lap--almost literally--as a potential beau gets blown up and his left-behind 13-year-old daughter Kat (Angela Goethals) hires her to find out who killed him. That throws Vicky (her real name) into the middle of a family feud that threatens to turn deadly, as the truth behind the explosion comes to the surface and Vicky and Kat find themselves in the middle of a dangerous situation. As a pairing, Turner and Goethals work well together, with the younger half letting loose as a foul-mouth moppet, and Turner filling the part of the reluctant, but willing guardian handily.

There is a pretty interesting twist along the way, and some fun detective work on the part of Warshawski, as she takes Kat under her wing and shows her the ropes of her business, but the film only has so many tricks up its sleeve and the quick 87-minute runtime is over before you know it, without much of a story having unfolded. It really is a journey from A to B, with few diversions along the way. More MacGuffins and red herrings would have been appreciated to complicate things and give Warshawski a bit more to do, but the film seems more interested in the pseudo-mother/daughter relationship between the detective and her protege (with a half-hearted attempt at a romantic subplot involving her journalist ex (Jay O. Sanders).

Directed by Jeff Kanew (Revenge of the Nerds, Troop Beverly Hills), the film has a few genuine comedy beats, but the detective side of the story never establishes itself solidly, bouncing between the humor Kanew is known for and more hard-boiled moments that it struggles with, creating an unbalanced tone. As a result, discordant scenes bump up against each other, and the film's big chase scene feels completely out of place, flown in from another film entirely. There's also another angle the film attempts to explore as V.I. battles near-constant sexism at all turns, be it from strangers on the street or a police chief who's known her all her life (Charles Durning). Though attempts are made to teach Kat about this struggle, it's hard to not feel like the grossness is being played for laughs, not commentary.

The Disc
Kino's Studio Classics line brings V.I. Warshawski home on one Blu-ray disc, which is packed in a standard keepcase with one of Kino's great visual catalogs. The film's poster art is on the front, while a duped version on the disc's static menu with options to watch the film, select scenes and check out the extras. There are no audio options, nor are there subtitles.

The Quality
The 1.85:1, 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer for V.I. Warshawski isn't the finest you've ever watched, but it's better than the film has looked previously, with solid color and some decent, but inconsistent fine detail (some shots you can count individual strands of hair, others are soft and fuzzy.) A good deal of the film takes place at night, and the image doesn't hold up well in these areas, with noticeable noise and some black crush. On the certain plus side, skintones are appropriate and there are no notable issues with dirt or damage.

The audio is presented via a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, but there's not much to the presentation that will stand out to you, outside of some very present sax scoring to set the mood of the film. Voices are clear and easily understood, while sound effects are a bit low in the mix, but not to the point of being absent. Any gunplay in the film will not raise an eyebrow, nor will the limited atmospheric effects. It's a serviceable, but unimpressive track.

The Extras
Director Jeff Kanew sat down with Marc Edward Heuck (who you may remember from Comedy Central's Beat the Geeks) to provide a remarkably frank commentary for the film, which covers a multitude of topics, including the arc of Turner's career at the time of the film, his own directorial downturn, troubles with producers and all sorts of behind-the-scenes drama. Heuck provides facts about the film and his own observations and thoughts about it, including some themes he spotted (which Kanew quickly labels as accidental.) There's no denying that this is a fascinating listen, though it gets uncomfortable at times due to Kanew's cynical honesty.

A trailers for V.I. Warshawski is included here, along with trailers for The Ambassador, Blown Away, City of Industry, and Malone.

The Bottom Line
V.I. Warshawski's biggest sin (aside from its place in Turner's downfall as an actress) is its inability to balance humor and detective action in a way that lets them work together toward a common goal. Maybe it's the weight of the V.I./Kat relationship or the effect of a thin plot, but several fine performances and a solid twist go to waste in the service of this film. Kino has delivered it in fine shape, and added in a fascinating extra in the form of a very blunt director's commentary (if there's a memoir by him, sign me up) making it a disc worth checking out for fans of Turner's, but a rental should cover most viewers' needs.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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