REVIEW: Mind-Blowingly Charmless Katherine Heigl Will Rob You Blind in One for the Money
One for the Money feels like the forgotten pilot for a TV show that wasn't picked up for series. Watch as Stephanie Plum (Katherine Heigl), Trenton divorcee-turned-bounty hunter, hunts down bail skippers in her high heels while trying to choose between troubled cop Joe Morelli (Jason O'Mara) and badass fellow bond agent Ranger (Daniel Sunjata) -- Tuesdays on USA! Plum is the creation of author Janet Evanovich and the basis of a bestselling 18 novel franchise, and if you squint at this big screen adaptation (directed by Julie Anne Robinson, of The Last Song and episodes of Weeds, Grey's Anatomy, 2 Broke Girls and others) you can make out some of the character's potential appeal -- she's an everywoman who discovers an unexpected talent for a tough gig, an outspoken Jersey girl who refuses to let the fact that she's out of her comfort zone stop her from getting the job done, etc, etc. But as played by Heigl, Stephanie is mind-blowingly charmless, the latest variation of the on-screen persona the actress has mysteriously embraced -- the prissy, once-wronged gal prone to bouts of inconveniently timed clumsiness and acrimonious banter with her eventual love interest.
I don't dislike Heigl on principle, but it's all too easy to call out everything that's gone wrong with the romantic comedy in recent years by way of her filmography. Her characters apparently need to be subjected to a journey of humiliating comeuppance in order to win over/come around to their unlikely loves -- the rom-com as punishment fantasy. Here her hostile Romeo, Morelli (no one refers to him by his first name), is the roguish town heartbreaker who's on the lam after having been charged with murdering Ziggy Kuleska, a local tough involved in some major criminal activity. For Stephanie, Morelli's more serious offense is not calling her back after relieving her of her virginity in the back of a bakery when they were in high school, for which she still bears a grudge. (One for the Money's tendencies to see things like murder only as vexing complications in its protagonist's personal life speaks both to its tonal confusion and to how minor the case around which it's theoretically structured actually is to the film as a whole.) Stephanie will net $50,000 if she can bring the man in, though the first time she finds him she realizes she doesn't actually have a way to do that unless he agrees to come with -- and he insists he's innocent.
Heigl and O'Mara snipe at each other with the sizzling chemistry of two people who can't wait to whip out their BlackBerries and check their email as soon as a take is over. The pair's rictus pantomime of sexual tension is countered by Stephanie's relationship with the hyper-competent and permanently Kevlar-clad Ranger, whom she describes as "Michelangelo's David dipped in caramel," and who serves as an alternate aloof romantic possibility as well as a tutor in the ways of bounty hunting. He's more superhero and plot device than person, but he's at least not burdened with the New Jersey accent Heigl and O'Mara gamely, unsuccessfully attempt. Stephanie is supposed to be earthy and sassy, not qualities Heigl is able to summon, but she's also problematically written as somewhere between active if imperfect heroine and Bella Swan-style object in need of rescuing. She's terrible at what she does, even for a beginner -- a running gag about her having to rummage through her purse for her gun at urgent moments is enough to make you want to bang your forehead on the theater seat in front of you. She gets one person killed and another badly beaten, and she frequently places herself in danger, requiring the intervention of Morelli or Ranger. The tension between the allure of being saved and protected versus the desire to do things oneself is by far the most intriguing part of One for the Money, because the film (which was written by Stacy Sherman, Karen Ray and Liz Brixius) has no idea how to balance the two and ends up instead making Stephanie seem like an indulged annoyance.
One for the Money's TV pilot air is furthered by the flat look of the film, and by characters who are introduced largely to have no other purpose, there to be given storylines in some (saints forbid) later installment. Annie Parisse is Mary Lou, the best friend Stephanie always calls for advice; Debbie Reynolds plays Stephanie's loopy grandmother who shoots the roast the rest of the family is eating while fooling around with her granddaughters newly acquired pistol, because accidental domestic gun violence is always good for a laugh. Patrick Fischler is Vinnie, Stephanie's sleazy cousin/boss, and Sherri Shepherd plays Lula, a brassy hooker who offers our aspiring bond agent information. John Leguizamo, Fisher Stevens and Leonardo Nam show up too. Hopefully the masses won't, because there are 17 more of these books just waiting to be dragged, kicking and screaming and rummaging in their purses for their weapons, onto the big screen.