Picks and Pans Review: V.i. Warshawski

updated 08/05/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/05/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Kathleen Turner, Angela Goethals

Few modern actresses carry enough weight—in terms of talent, prestige or pounds—to play a tough gal private-eye role. But in this old-fashioned, good-time-at-the-movies B picture, Turner shows she can deliver seductive looks, swift kicks and acerbic insults with equal conviction.

Her character, a Chicagoan whose father was a cop, is taken from the novels of Sara Paretsky, who consistently manages to turn the genre's prejudices around. And while it's still a mark against producer Jeffrey Lurie that he couldn't find at least one woman writer to work on this gender-specific script, its three male writers, Edward Taylor, David Aaron Cohen and Nick Thiel, do some decent cross-thinking.

Turner, for instance, is looking into the death, in a mysterious explosion, of a man she had met in a club hours before. She has also become the de facto partner of Goethals, the man's 13-year-old daughter, who is estranged from her mom. As the two investigate the case, Turner's advice includes, "Never underestimate a man's ability to underestimate a woman."

Later, when Turner tosses a gun to a reporter boyfriend, Jay O. Sanders, he cringes and says in the time-honored fashion of private eyes' dolls, "God! I hate these things."

Since the setting is Chicago, there are plenty of Cub jokes too. "I just don't want to die without seeing the Cubs win a pennant," one character tells Charles Durning, playing a cop. "You should be happy to be alive," Durning replies. "Now you're asking for immortality."

Merely routine performances by Sanders and much of the supporting cast (in underwritten parts) keep the film from reaching the level of, say, Chinatown. Compare Sanders's laconic line readings with the zest shown by Durning or Goethals's energy.

The script is right for Turner though. She does some slamming around, is a slammee at times and maximizes such exchanges as: "What does it take to hire you?" "Money—and a just cause." "How much money?" "How just is your cause?"

And when one thug boasts to her that he has slept with more than 500 women, she sneers back, "Can't get the hang of it, eh?"

Jeff (Tough Guys) Kanew directed unobtrusively. He knew a star vehicle when he saw one, and this isn't a bad occasion to go along for the ride. (R)

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