Movie Article

Romancing the Audience: The Turner repertoire

Kathleen Turner's repertoire -- We take a look at her remarkable turns in ''Peggy Sue Got Married,'' ''Crimes of Passion,'' and more

Kathleen Turner's repertoire

She's usually thought of as a smoldering man-eater, but every role Kathleen Turner has taken in her decade-long movie career has seemed calculated to throw the audience off balance. The only common denominator? Unalloyed allure. A look back at Turner's remarkable turns:

Body Heat (1981)
As Matty Walker, the creamy, murderous temptress with a temperature a notch above normal, Turner arrived on the screen with the smoky confidence of one who knows she's already a star. While comparisons were made to Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, the proper parallel is to another Turner, the one in the original Postman Always Rings Twice. But even Lana never came off this smart. A

The Man With Two Brains (1983)
Thumbing her nose at expectations, she went for laughs as the gold-digging Mrs. Michael Hfuhruhurr in the underrated Steve Martin mad-scientist comedy. The part is really Body Heat's Matty with all the scheming up front. The way Turner plays her, this woman gets an erotic buzz from her own deviousness. B+

Romancing the Stone (1984)
Star time. By beginning Robert Zemeckis' romantic adventure as a shy mouseburger, Turner connected with audiences in a way she hadn't before. And when she takes the machete from costar Michael Douglas and starts cutting her own path through that South American jungle, someone we relate to suddenly turns into someone we admire. A-

Crimes of Passion (1984)
Outrageous and controversial, Ken Russell's film probes the hypocrisy of a country founded on liberty but profoundly messed up about sex. Turner is astounding as the woman with a split-level libido: By day she's an uptight yuppie, by night the depraved China Blue, offering service with a smile to the synthesized strains of Dvorak's ''New World'' Symphony. B+

A Breed Apart (1984)
Maybe you've seen this barely released résumé oddity on cable. Powers Boothe wants to steal a rare eagle egg from a mountaintop, Rutger Hauer is the grizzled nature boy out to stop him, and Turner is — are you ready? — the backcountry store proprietor who comes between them. It's not quite as bad as it sounds. Unfortunately, it's not very good, either. C-

Prizzi's Honor (1985)
Director John Huston knew what he was doing when he cast Turner as the hit lady who marries into the Family for love of bumbling mobster Jack Nicholson (pictured). Sleek, efficient, icy, she's the odd woman out in this gang of overemotional crooks — and no match for Anjelica Huston's conniving, heartsore Maerose. A

The Jewel of the Nile (1985)
Or: Romancing the Sequel. And not bad, as these things go, even if the script lacks the humane wit of the late Diane Thomas' original. What made Stone special, though, was seeing Turner's Joan Wilder come out of her shy shell. On this swashbuckling second adventure, the laughs are more obvious, and the characters are treading water. C

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
A gentle surprise — the movie Francis Ford Coppola didn't want to make becomes a moving fantasy about a woman who returns to adolescence with her adult memories intact. It's Twilight Zone stuff, to be sure, but with Turner pouring affection into lines like ''Oh, Dad You bought an Edsel,'' the whole thing glows. B

Julia and Julia (1987)
More Twilight Zone weirdness: a swank, Italian-made head-scratcher in which Turner plays a woman shuttling between parallel universes — a domestic paradise with loving husband Gabriel Byrne and an existential mystery with brooding Sting. The actress seems to know what it all means, but she never clues us in. D

Switching Channels (1988)
Even Turner dumped on this frantic romantic comedy, which updates His Girl Friday to a CNN-type newsroom. It's not a turkey, though — just a little overbearing. The biggest mistake is in asking us to believe that Kathleen Turner and Burt Reynolds are meant for each other, when anybody with eyes can see that they're not even from the same planet. C+

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
What would this funhouse ride be without the gravity-defying Jessica Rabbit? And what would Jessica Rabbit be without Turner's plummy vowels rolling scandalously off her cartoon tongue? ''I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way,'' Jessica drawls, but the real source of her hare-raising sexuality is that honey-chile voice. A

The Accidental Tourist (1988)
Turner reunited with Body Heat costar William Hurt and director Lawrence Kasdan for a coolly understated adaptation of Anne Tyler's novel. Geena Davis won the acclaim and the Oscar, but Turner, in the smallish role of Hurt's mournful, controlling wife, turns in some of her richest acting to date. B+

The War of the Roses (1989)
Danny De Vito's corrosive divorce comedy would have been merely a two-hour sick joke if not for Turner's beautifully drawn Barbara Rose, a woman who wakes up one day to find that the man she loves (Michael Douglas, pictured) has become the man she loathes, and that the only thing worth salvaging is her pride. B

Originally posted Aug 02, 1991 Published in issue #77 Aug 02, 1991 Order article reprints