Monday, February 8, 2021

Watch Party Watch: V.I. Warshawksi (1991)

Watched:  02/08/2021
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  Jeff Kanew

When V.I. Warshaswki was advertised in 1991, I remember thinking "but... what is the hook?"  Like, I wasn't all that much into detective movies, and by 1991 already, the notion of a woman in an ostensibly male-oriented job wasn't... all that novel.  Especially when you had a big-ticket actor like Kathleen Turner showing up.  If she wanted to be a lady sous chef or neurosurgeon, okay.  

By hook I mean: I couldn't tell you much about the actual crimes or mysteries of the Lethal Weapon franchise, but I could talk about the cast and the character interactions.  I didn't pay money to see Mel Gibson solve a crime - I had detective and cop shows on every night of the week.  I paid money to see Mel Gibson and Danny Glover be pals and do their thing.  I hate to say it, but in 1991 and 2021, "but she's a lady!" is not much of a hook. Maybe in 1981?   

So, in watching V.I. Warshawski, the movie was more or less exactly what I expected as a Rated-R detective movie starring a bigger name actor from 1991.  Except less funny than it probably should have been?  I mean- Turner is funny, y'all.  She really isn't here.  It's a straight detective story about a PI trying to solve the mystery about people we don't know and don't care a whole lot about.  They're just not that interesting.  

And, unfortunately, aside from figuring out where the money is coming from - because Warshawski's apartment is on wildly expensive Chicago real estate* - she's a pretty generic PI, right down to having a refrigerator full of spoiled food.  A gag so old it was part of the jokes baked into Naked Gun three years prior to this movie.  

Our story:  Warshawski meets an ex-Blackhawks player at The Green Mill, hooks up with him (sort of) and then he comes by her apartment later that night where she's fighting with her on-again-off-again boyfriend - and he's got his 13 year old daughter in tow.  Which makes no sense.  It would literally be safer for him to get a hotel room and leave his daughter there than in the care of a complete stranger and the guy he didn't know was going to be there.  

The 13 year old, Kat, is written as...  something?  Badly?  We know she's streetwise because she swears and asks inappropriate questions and and tells us "she grew up around hockey players" and then we're told a scene later she's a "wharf rat, grew up on the marina".  

Dad winds up dead, there's a thing about an egg that they totally forget about 1/2 way through the movie, and Warshawski goes and digs up CLEWS as to who killed the dad.  And I was like "oh, it's probably the guy with the hair they only give bad guys in movies."*  But Kathleen Turner is jumped from behind I believe no less than three times in the movie (doors and corners, kid.  How did you last this long as a PI?).  

But, really, the biggest crime of the movie isn't just the warmed over detective plot that I literally do not care about or the many, many beats you've seen in every detective movie you ever saw, like the PI getting beaten up for asking questions mobsters don't want them asking.  I'd argue the biggest problem is tone and pacing (underlined by a wildly repetitive soundtrack leftover from a marginally earlier movie).  As Jenifer said, the pacing is on a constant 3 out of 10, and at about that energy level.  Everyone's just sorta casually going about their business, no real sense of urgency to anything.  No one is overly upset by the death of a guy naemed "Boom Boom", even his daughter (who is now orphaned, more or less).  And the movie just sluggishly goes from scene to scene.  

This is flat out an editing and directorial problem.  Movies can be saved on the cutting table, but you have to have something to work with.  And there's just never any urgency to any of the film.  But there's also no big moments of revelation - or working the mystery.  Instead, it becomes Warshawski dropping fortune cookie-level ideas about how to PI to the 13 year old.

I think the whole watch party agreed that the *ending* of the film was at least a bit interesting, but I'm not sure it made any sense outside of "well, they snapped".  But logic in this mystery wasn't really much of a factor, and that's unfortunate, because mysteries kind of need highly refined logic or the whole thing doesn't really work.    

Look, I think Kathleen Turner is a great actor, she's trying here and I can imagine she had higher hopes for a franchise sort of character than what happened.  

I hate to say that my suspicions I harbored about the film when I was 16 more or less played out - there just wasn't much there there.  But, Kathleen Turner cast as a big star in a mystery vehicle that goes nowhere is not the first and she absolutely was not the last.  It's very hard to say what makes a stand-alone mystery movie work - but I'd point to the recent watch I did of The Nice Guys, which gave us interesting scenes and events for our similarly colorful characters to wade through as an example of something that is better than the complex mystery.  

What I can say is that a mark of a successful movie is that I want to spend more time with the characters - and the natural magnetism of Turner is the only part of this movie - aside from its quite impressive use of Chicago as a character, that I'd want to return to.  

And if I want more Kathleen Turner, she made other movies.  

* the apartment appears to really be one of the buildings off Sheffield that can see right into the Wrigley Field.  I am not sure in 1991 what this would have cost, but now the price would be enormous.  
**friends, it was the guy with the hair they only give bad guys in movies 

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