A film review by Craig J. Koban June 10, 2012


2012, R, 89 mins.


Katherine Heigl: Stephanie Plum / Jason O’Mara: Joe Morelli / Daniel Sujata: Ranger /John Leguizamo: Jimmy / Sherri Shepherd: Lula / Debbie Reynolds: Grandma

Directed by Julie Anne Robinson / Screenplay by Stacy Sherman, Karen Ray and Liz Brixius, based on Janet Evanovich's novel

Is there some sort of self-abusing clause in Katherine Heigl’s contract that requires her to perform in one cringe-inducingly mediocre romcom after another?  Seriously.

We have reached a point in her less-than-stellar career thus far where rationales for her choices seem like defensive excuses.  Regrettably awful and forgettable romcoms like 27 DRESSES, THE UGLY TRUTH, and KILLERS showed Heigl trapped playing characters that were uncomfortable within their own skin, but later became self-actualized when they met just-the-right-man to turn things around.  Those films were all, on some level or another, condescendingly offensive to women in general, which is odd seeing as Heigl – by her own admission – left television acting to peruse better and more substantial film roles in film. 

Let me be blunt and clear: I don’t hate Heigl.  I really like her.  I do.  She’s luminously beautiful and can bridge the gap between comedy and drama rather well…when compelled to or given the opportunity (see KNOCKED UP).  So, I am more than willing to give her yet another chance with ONE FOR THE MONEY, the first in a hopeful female gumshoe film series, based on Stephanie Evanovich’s 1994 novel about Stephanie Plum, a tough as nails and no-nonsense female bounty hunter from Jersey .  Unlike Heigl's other recent film roles, Plum is not a defenseless shrew of a woman, but a hard-working blue-collar girl who can confidently – if not sometimes unsuccessfully – carry her own in any predicament.  It would be wrong to label the film that she occupies as gratingly misogynistic, considering the character herself and the fact that the film is produced, directed, and written by women.  Yet, ONE FOR THE MONEY still mournfully emerges as yet another bland, flavorless, and tired Heigl-starring misfire that reiterates, more than ever, that the star needs a rapid career transformation...like...now.  

The story tells the unlikely origin of how Trenton-native Plum went from having a semi-denigrating job working as a Macy’s department manager to a “recovery agent.”  When she is let go from her store and has not been able to secure a job for six months, the desperate Plum seeks out work at her cousin’s (Patrick Fischler) bail bond business, despite having absolutely no experience whatsoever in the field.  She needs money really fast, so she decides to tackle the biggest and most profitable high-profile target she can get her hands on, which just happens to be an accused cop-turned-killer, Joe Morelli (Jason O’Mara), that was the same man that de-flowered Plum when she was a virginal 17-years-old.  It appears that Plum has more than one motive for tracking this guy down. 



Predictably, Stephanie is a real greenhorn at her new job, but she is befriended by Ranger (Daniel Sunjata), a handsome and experienced fellow bounty hunter that teaches her the ropes of their dangerous profession.  Along the way Stephanie comes in contact with a wide range of colorful side-players, such as a wide-cracking prostitute (Sherri Shepherd), a vile and lethal MMA fighter (Gavin-Keith Umeth), and his trainer (John Leguizamo), all of whom are sprinkled into the narrative here and there, but are done so to perfunctorily pay off later.  As Stephanie closes in on Joe and has several chance meetings with him, she grows to realize that he may indeed be innocent of his charges, which complicates apprehending and turning him in for the lucrative $50,000 pay out.  That, and she still has feelings for the man. 

If there were anything good to be had in ONE FOR THE MONEY then it would be the fact that Stephanie, on paper, is an inviting and likeable character that’s plucky, headstrong, and willing to do anything to nab her man (which, again, represents a modest improvement from Heigl’s past roles; plus, we also get to see Heigl in cleavage-friendly tight T-shirts and form-fitting jeans, which is superficially appealing).  On a more serious note, Jason O’Mara is also very good actor that brings a considerable amount of goofy charm to match his granite-jawed mug.  He’s a welcome sign as a likeable co-lead to play opposite of Heigl after the likes of Gerard Butler and Ashton Kutcher. 

Yet, for as interesting as Stephanie is as a character, ONE FOR THE MONEY and Heigl’s absurdly ill-footed performance kind of betrays her.  She sports a big-haired, frizzy brown do and a god-awful New Jauh-sey accent through the proceedings to the point of crude caricature that never helps, not to mention that she awkwardly traverses through the film’s incongruent blend of bad one-liners, insipid story developments, and tension-less action scenes.  As far as snappy gumshoe banter is concerned, ONE FOR THE MONEY is dead on arrival when it comes to colorfully eclectic exchanges (when O’Mara’s Joe deadpans to Stephanie, “We’re ancient history, like the pyramids, baby!” I wanted to permanently lose my hearing).  Not assisting matters is the lackluster voiceover narration track - inconsistently permeated throughout the film to provide lame filler or even lamer verbal puns – and a music score that seems to browbeat audiences over the head by telling them precisely when they are supposed to giggle; it’s almost as maddening as a sitcom laugh track. 

You also know you’re in trouble when you require the services of an elderly actress (in this film’s case, Debbie Reynolds, in an embarrassing turn) that is lazily used to provide some witless comic relief as the prototypical old coot that’s wild, capricious, and mechanically meddling (she, Heigl, and a group of other actors all portray Stephanie’s obligatorily colorful ethnic family unit, during which awkward dinner scenes are like litmus tests for how not to film actors for hilarious reaction shots).  The film’s peculiar out-of-nowhere product placement at times is also distracting: Stephanie frequently slurps down on 44 ounce Super Big Gulps from 7/11, whose cup also makes an appearance during the film’s opening credit montage.  That’s a first. 

There are apparently 18 books chronicling Stephanie Plum’s detective work and bounty hunting exploits that, no doubt, have their devotees.  I can see how Heigl (who also served as Executive Producer) and company thought that ONE FOR THE MONEY was a launching point for a series of cinematic Plum adventures that would appeal to women and murder mystery followers.   Unfortunately, the resulting film is a weary, corny, exhaustingly unfunny, and amateurishly forgettable franchise launch.  Ultimately, ONE FOR THE MONEY feels more like a shaky, tepid, and uninspired pilot for a third-rate TV network than a feature film worthy of your time, not to mention that it’s another in a long, long list of consistently dreadful romcoms for Heigl.  The film did have one fan, though: Evanovich, who apparently wept with joy at the end of the screening she attended.  Funny, I had the exact same reaction, but for vastly different reasons.

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