American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Private eye V.I. Warshawski is often asked what the "V" stands for. "It stands for my first name," she says. In a series of novels by Sara Paretsky, the hardworking sleuth from Chicago has walked in the footsteps of Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, and the other wisecracking practitioners of the thankless trade of private investigation. Now, like them, she gets her own movie.
Warshawski is a free-lance P.I. who lives in an apartment overlooking Wrigley Field, drives an old gas-guzzler, and has a weakness for red shoes. She's hard-boiled on the job (as in a scene where she demonstrates to a thug one of the several uses of a nutcracker), but she's a closet romantic, and likes guys who are bearded and tough on the outside but pushovers underneath.
One night while she's hanging out at her favorite bar, she meets a former Blackhawks player named Boom-Boom Grafalk (Stephen Meadows). The vibes are there right from the start, but she's surprised later that night when he brings his 13-year-old daughter around and asks V.I. to keep an eye on her. And still later that night, Boom-Boom is killed in a boat explosion near Navy Pier, and the kid hires V.I. to find out who murdered her dad.
The movie then plunges into a fairly typical private-eye plot, in which the sins of the past cause the children to suffer, and old family secrets lead to revenge and murder. V.I. finds herself up against various surviving relatives of Boom-Boom, whose family includes a rich brother with a predatory wife. The simple baby-sitting job turns into a complex investigation that may inspire still more murders. And the screenplay is so respectful of the private-eye genre that there's even the obligatory scene where Warshawski asks a friendly police official to give her 24 hours to solve the case on her own.
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