Dir. by Julie Anne Robinson - 1 hr. 31 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
In the last year or so, there's been three attempts to launch movie franchises based on popular serial book characters (this one, based on Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, James Patterson's "Alex Cross," and "Parker," based on the Donald Westlake novels), and all three fell flat on their face. Watching "One for the Money" is the second of the three that I've watched (I've never read the source material), and there are obvious comparisons to "Alex Cross." Being lumped in with that film isn't exactly a compliment, and I wouldn't pretend for a second that "One for the Money" was a successful movie, but I found it somehow less offensive and awful than "Alex Cross." At the same time, it didn't feel like anybody was really going for anything here, and the lack of ambition to make a really good movie ended up leaving a bad taste in my mouth.
Stephanie Plum (Katherine Heigl) has lost her job selling lingerie at Macy's, and has been unsuccessfully trying to find a new job for six months when we meet her. She's kind of unemployable (although there's not much explanation as to why), in debt, divorced, and and about to have her car repo'd. Stephanie ends up pestering her cousin (who owns a bail bond business) to let her become a "recovery agent," since she's already exhausted every option she can think of. He relents, and she finds a big-money target that she shares an intimate history from high school with (Joe Morelli, played by Jason O'Mara). The whole thing is a little more complicated than she thinks, and she ends up trying to untangle a case that the police don't seem to have much interest in pursuing.
To start with the positive, "One for the Money" isn't blatantly stupid. It's definitely a paint-by-numbers story, and there's a lot of characterization that isn't explored, instead leaving the audience to infer pretty much everything about. But there's a proud tradition of PG-rated murder mysteries (think "Murder She Wrote," but instead starring a pretty cute actress with awful hair), so I wasn't particularly upset that this wasn't as gritty of a story as it probably ought to have been. Yeah, there are prostitutes, but they're more like the comic relief than "anything for ten dollars" crackheads. Yeah, Katherine Heigl gets naked at one point, but it's all either seen through a shower curtain or shot from the collarbone and above. Yeah, people get shot and die, but it's either largely bloodless or entirely off-screen. That's all fine. This movie can probably air on TV with zero edits, and that's not reason for complaint.
Faint praise? Well, yeah. "One for the Money" isn't a good movie. The biggest problem that I had was the familiarity everyone in the entire city seemed to have with one another. Part of this was that Stephanie almost exclusively interacted with cousins, or with people she had history with, but everyone (and I mean everyone) just seemed way, way too nosy and involved in each others' lives. I assume that's how Trenton, New Jersey is supposed to be (or at least to feel), but I'm not from New Jersey, and that's not how any community I've ever been a part of has ever behaved. It just felt weird, and like there was way too much that no one was bothering to explain to me as a viewer, which also made me feel like an outsider. That sense made it really hard for me to be interested in any of the characters. There were ham-fisted explanations of Stephanie's dislike for other people (does she really need to explicitly tell her family that she'd already had a husband, and didn't care for it? Since it's such an awkward way to refer to her history, I assumed that he'd show up at some point, but he never did), but the writing used entirely too much shorthand to fill in people's histories and not enough actual characterization.
There is also the fact that Stephanie ends up buddying up to her target. The character was unconvincing as a "in it for the money" hard-ass (and has the self-awareness to realize that wasn't working), but Stephanie has a weird need to be liked, even though she seems to be constantly turning her nose up at everything and everyone around her. Who knows if that is how the source material reads, or if it was intentional, but I was almost immediately not interested in seeing any more movies about this character. I didn't care if she consummated the sexual tension between her and Joe, I didn't care much if the evil MMA guy got his hands on her. There simply wasn't any drama, of course she's going put Joe in jail and collect her 50k. And the comedy didn't work - it's like watching someone crack not particularly funny observational jokes about their family (whom you've never met, and come to think of it, you never met her before either).
I get what everyone involved was going for here: an everywoman hero succeeding in a tough-guy world, preferably with a little style and feminine charm. But since everything all the way through "One for the Money" is so predictable and rote, there's no way the ending is going to be a downer surprise, either. I liked Heigl here more than I had before (but I think the only other thing I'd seen her in was the "wet blanket" role in "Knocked Up"), and she cuts a sharp figure in jeans and leather jacket, but I didn't find her fumbling to learn how to recover skips particularly charming, and the character was so poorly written (at least if you want anyone to be sympathetic to her) that it short-circuited any potential emotional connection this type of story requires in order to be successful. I didn't hate "One for the Money" when I finished watching it, but it just keeps getting worse in retrospect. Seriously, it can't be that hard to turn a successful book franchise into a successful movie, but this is even worse than "Alex Cross," and probably about as bad as I expect "Parker" to be. So, film directors, feel free to succeed in this territory. I'm impatiently awaiting just that.
1 / 5 - Streaming