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Burglar Print E-mail
Tuesday, 30 March 1999


Warner Home Video
starring: Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Goldthwait, G.W. Bailey, John Goodman
release year: 1987
film rating: Two-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture: Three Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

In its affable, half-kidding way, ‘Burglar’ is a reasonably watchable murder mystery, good-natured and bloodless as an episode of ‘The Rockford Files.’ In fact, in several respects, the film bears more resemblance to a segment of a light-hearted weekly crime show than it does a stand-alone film. It seems to be crafted with an expectation that we will quickly familiarize ourselves with -- and like -- Bernice "Bernie" Rhodenburr (Whoopi Goldberg), enjoying her company so much that we won’t mind the fact that her adventures are fairly run-of-the-mill for the genre.

Bernie is an ex-con who runs a used bookshop but occasionally plies her old trade of cat burglary. Although a thief, Bernie has her ethics -- her motto is, "It’s not what you steal but who you steal it from." Although Bernie wants to go straight, she is being blackmailed and urgently needs funds. A simple-looking gig opens up, but Bernie winds up hiding in the closet just as her burglary target is stabbed to death in the room beyond. This puts Bernie in the position of needing to find the killer before the cops pin the killing on her.

The opening sequence, in which Bernie successfully plays upon the unconscious racism of the residents of an upscale enclave in order to make a clean getaway, creates a knowing, satirical tone the film doesn’t maintain for long. Then again, in the source material for ‘Burglar,’ a series of books by Lawrence Block, the title character is a white man. The screenplay by Joseph Loeb III & Matthew Weisman and Hugh Wilson has a decent whodunit plot that nevertheless doesn’t present suspects intriguing and/or dangerous enough for us to especially care how the mystery is resolved.

Goldberg, playing a smart, observant woman, projects intelligent humor and provides good company. Director Hugh Wilson keeps the pace bouncy but can’t get a unified style from the cast. Goldberg, G.W. Bailey as a crooked cop who’s leaning on Bernie and John Goodman and Anne De Salvo as detectives on her tail all appear to be in the same movie, but Lesley Ann Warren as another suspect seems to be in some other, broader film altogether. Bob Goldthwait, as Bernie’s dog-grooming best friend, seems to have one foot in an entirely separate dimension. When the clashing acting methods turn up in the same scene, it’s hard to suspend disbelief.

Wilson stages a variety of foot and vehicular chases competently, though he rarely produces thrills or even out-loud laughs. In Chapter 24, he creates some surprisingly effective film noir imagery in thick blue fog. Elsewhere, the film has an ever-so-slightly yellow tint, which is most visible in reds that consistently skew towards an orange tint. Sonically, the single most interesting moment arguably comes in Chapter 11, with a scream of surprise that has an electrical component to it; it’s hard for this listener to tell if this is intentional or a strange byproduct of the mix, but it’s undeniably unusual.

‘Burglar’ is undemanding, pleasant viewing. There’s not much to bother most people and it doesn’t lose the viewer’s attention while it’s on, but once over, it’s almost immediately forgettable.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Surround Stereo; French Dolby Mono
aspect ratio(s):
1:3:3 (full-screen, modified from original format)
special features: French Language Track; English Closed-Captioning; Chapter Search
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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