Plotwise, 'V. I. Warshawski' doesn't have a leg to stand on


The camera in "V. I. Warshawski" is obsessed with Kathleen Turner's legs, right from the opening credits when it's poking up her skirt. And those legs -- which are not what they used to be -- are still the best thing about this miserable movie.

This is sad because it was a much-anticipated film. V. I. -- the initials stand for Victoria Iphigenia -- Warshawski is the heroine of Sara Paretsky's crime novels, which run an intriguing feminist turn on hard-boiled detective fiction, while remaining true to the spirit of the genre.

The screenplay, produced by a committee of three that did not include Paretsky, has no discernible narrative -- in fact, it meanders from episode to episode so lifelessly that it is sometimes difficult to remember whose murder Warshawski is trying to solve and why it was committed. (The script is so bad that -- literally minutes away from the final credits -- a motive is invented for a character so that the film can have its denouement.)

The directing is worse. Jeff Kanew -- the previous high point of his career was "The Revenge of the Nerds" -- doesn't seem to be able to do anything. You've heard of unobtrusive directing? Well, this is unobtrusive undirecting.

Although Turner is still a young woman, time has not been kind to her. The other characters keep talking about what a beauty she is, but in this film she is as puffy-faced before she is beaten up by hoods as afterward. She tries to remain true to the spirit of Paretsky's character, but no actress could rescue material like this. Paretsky's sense of the courage it takes for a woman to operate in an area that men perceive as a male preserve is reduced to lines like, "Murray, the world does not revolve around your pecker!"

The rest of the cast struggles valiantly with equally miserable material: Jay O. Sanders as the reporter who is V. I.'s love interest; Charles Durning as Bobby Mallory, the kind-hearted cop who thinks V. I. should be home raising kids; and Angela Goethals, an engagingly saucy 13-year-old actress who plays the girl who hires V. I. to find out who murdered her father.

The movie tries for humor by having Turner use her much photographed legs to place well-aimed kicks at the genitals of the villains. This was funny the first time and not after. Too bad that V. I. couldn't have placed a kick where it really mattered: in the laps of the men who made this movie.

V. I. Warshawski'

Starring Kathleen Turner.

Directed by Jeff Kanew.

Released by Hollywood Pictures.

Rated R.

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