PARK CITY 2000 REVIEW: Rudolph's "Trixie," Endearing, Vapid Whodunnit
by Stephen Garrett
An utterly endearing cast gets alarmingly wasted in Alan Rudolph's
latest film, the whimsical, vapid detective whodunnit "Trixie." So much
of Rudolph and John Binder's script is consumed with indulging their
admittedly funny dialogue that not enough time is spent on developing
the story, which, for a murder mystery, becomes painfully blunt and
obvious very quickly. The film's saving grace is the cinematic
insurance of Emily Watson, as luminous and adorable as ever and easily
capable of rising above her mediocre surroundings to deliver one of the
most wonderfully charming gun-toting, silver-screen tough chicks since
Gena Rowlands in "Gloria."
Emily Watson is "Trixie" in Alan Rudolph's hardboiled-detective/screwball comedy.
Watson plays Trixie Zurbo, a gun-for-hire with the Attack Security
Agency who reads "Police Insight" magazine religiously and dreams of
someday tackling bigger crooks. After helping pin down a department
store thief, her big break comes when a casino in the out-of-town resort
community of Crescent's Cove hires her for after-hours undercover
detective work around the gambling tables.
Smacking gum and talking in a thick Chicago accent, the Illinois-born
Trixie endears herself to the locals with her special way of twisting
the English language into her very unique brand of malapropisms, such as
describing herself as "green behind the ears," telling boozy floozy Dawn
Sloane (Lesley Ann Warren) "stop drinking yourself into Bolivia!" and
wondering aloud, "Do I have an ace up my hole?"
Wooing her in the casino is handsome klutz Dex Lang (Dermot Mulroney),
the yacht lackey of big-time land developer Red Rafferty (Will Patton),
who seduces Trixie into a water-logged visit to Red's boat and an
inadvertent ride with Rafferty, Senator Drummond Avery (Nick Nolte), and
Sloane. Days later, when Trixie and Dex are just beginning to get
physical, Dex gets beaten up by Avery's thugs, who are looking for the
suddenly missing Sloane and the incriminating sex scandal videotape she
claims to have.
So begins Trixie's crusade to unravel the closely-woven secret behind
Dex's attack, Rafferty's plans for high-priced condos and Avery's
lucrative political cooperation behind the scenes. She even ropes in
the assistance of local tart Ruby Pearli (Brittany Murphy), who carries
three types of IDs (with ages from 16 to 29, depending on the
circumstances), wears sluttish clothes and has a toddler back home. But
once the film finishes establishing the players and their motivations,
it also starts hemorrhaging charm by the bucketful. And when someone
gets murdered, the script almost completely jettisons character
development for contrived plot twists and nonsensical behavior that
strains and ultimately sacrifices dramatic credibility.
(l-r) Emily Watson and Nathan Lane in "Trixie"
The cinematic waste is only highlighted by the wonderfully eccentric
cast, including Lane's hard-drinking lounge lizard, cracking bitter
jokes and belting out two-bit standards in between B-grade
impersonations of people like Peter Falk and Robert Goulet; and Nolte's
blowhard senator, growling cheeky hot-air promises to constituents while
leering at any pretty woman within groping distance. One memorable
scene even has Ruby "distracting" the senator with a not-so-subtle
handjob in a classy restaurant.
What remains present, thankfully, is Rudolph's deadpan mastery of the
small moments among actors which often blossom into genuinely hilarious
physical comedy -- its apex is an absurdist shootout that shows Dex
fending off Avery's goons and stumbling into victory with astoundingly
clumsy gunplay on both sides. It's at these all-too-few instants that
"Trixie" hints at its potential strength of genuine screwball comedy, a
strength squandered by a filmmaker more known for his indulgent quirks
than for any sense of