"Last Song" director Julie Anne Robinson's second theatrical feature "One for the Money" looks like one for the rental. This lukewarm but lightweight romantic comedy about a lingerie sales manager who becomes a bounty hunter lacks chemistry between its leads, momentum in its plot dynamics, and hilarity where it counts. Charming Katherine Heigl hasn't made a genuinely contagious comedy since "The Ugly Truth" (2000) with Gerard Butler. Meantime, bestselling author Janet Evanovich's fans may have other reasons to revile this fair but predictable thriller. Evanovich penned the first Stephanie Plum novel that "One for the Money" is based on back in 1994. Evanovich drew inspiration for her first-person crime sagas from the 1988 action-packed, buddy-picture, road comedy "Midnight Run" which paired Robert De Niro with Charles Grodin. De Niro played the bounty hunter, and Grodin was his quarry.
Sadly, "One of the Money" radiates none of strengths of "Midnight Run." Heigl emerges as a brunette Barbie with a gun. Further, this lethargic, 91-minute, PG-13 epic resembles a sex roles reversal of the 2010 Jennifer Ashton & Gerard Butler fiasco "The Bounty Hunter." In the latter film, a male skip tracer (Gerard Butler) picks up his bail jumping ex-wife (Jennifer Ashton), and their romance rekindles itself amid the chaos of conflict. In "One for the Money," our plucky heroine pursues a bail jumping cop who helped himself to her virginity on the floor of a bakery when they were teens in high school. Not surprisingly, they are still attracted to each other. The only thing good about "One for the Money" is that it surpasses "The Bounty Hunter." Unfortunately, Heigl's film—which she executive produced—never generates any kind of get-up-and-go urgency. Freshman film scribes Stacy Sherman, Karen Ray, and Liz Brixius screenplay cannot decide whether they are scripting a hilarious comedy or a bullet-riddled actioneer.
Stephanie Plum (Katherine Heigl of "Knocked Up") is wrestling with dire woes both personal and financial. Recently, she got a divorce. Stephanie's feelings about the opposite sex are clear. "I had a husband. I didn't like it. I don't want another one." Now, her creditors are mauling her. Mind you, Heigl always casts herself as a cheerfully downtrodden but sympathetic heroine, and "One for the Money" accommodates her own self-induced typecasting. Stephanie's hard times started when Macy's in Trenton, New Jersey, gave her the ax. She managed the lingerie department. Afterward, she finds an opening at her creepy cousin's bail bonding business. Technically, they call bounty hunters 'recovery agents.' She likes the kind of loot that bail bondsmen make, too. No sooner has Stephanie gone to work for her sleazy cousin Vinny (Patrick Fischler of "Twister") than she finds a handsome Hispanic hunk, Ranger (Daniel Sunjata of "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past"), to tutor her about the basics. No, Stephanie isn't a crack shot at the shooting gallery. She can hit the target, but she realizes superior shooting skills take time and practice.
Meantime, Ranger has her back whether he's tangling with assailants or unlocking her handcuffs. The handcuff scene is probably the funniest since it makes Stephanie appear plum helpless. This standard scene shows up in every Heigl movie. Nevertheless, Plum doesn't want to work her way up to the top dollar collars. She sets her sights on a renegade cop, Joe Morelli (Jason O'Mara of "Resident Evil: Extinction"), who is accused of murder. The authorities want to charge Joe for shooting an unarmed drug dealer. Two innocent bystanders witnessed the shooting but they have vanished into thin air. Stephanie plans to locate the bystanders and help out Joe. Stephanie obtains her reliable information from a loquacious African-American prostitute, Lula (Sherri Shepherd of "Precious"), who takes a beating for it. Our heroine runs afoul of a vicious kickboxer, Benito Ramirez (Gavin-Keith Umeh of TV's "White Collar"), and his low-life trainer Jimmy Alpha (John Leguizamo of "Gamer") who makes a serious mistake when he calls Steph's shooting skills into question. Inevitably, Stephanie and Joe team up and everything comes up roses.
You can count the good movies about modern day bounty hunters on one hand and have fingers left over. "One for the Money" doesn't make the top five. 'Mediocre' pretty much describes this misguided Katherine Heigl effort. For the record, the solid Steve McQueen movie "The Hunter" (1980) served as the prototype for the formula. McQueen fetched fugitives whose use of deadly force escalated as the film's running time elapsed. "One for the Money" isn't prototypical as the first female bounty hunter movie because director Tony Scott's film "Domino" (2005) beat it to the punch. Most of the comedy grows out of Heigl's clueless ignorance. "Midnight Run" ranks as the best modern day bounty hunter epics. Unlike "Midnight Run," "One for the Money" provides only a modicum of combat situations and nothing about the characters is fresh and imaginative. The funniest modern day bounty hunter was Clint Eastwood in "Pink Cadillac." Unfortunately, what it lacks in "Midnight Run" type melodrama, it doesn't compensate for with enough "Pink Cadillac" humor. The funniest scene "One for the Money" conjures up concerns a nudist Stephanie must deliver. The villains are as forgettable as the action is bland. One of the few fun moments has Debbie Reynolds obliterating a cooked turkey with our heroine's service revolver.
Heigl generates more chemistry with good guy Ranger than bad guy Morelli, but Ranger and Plum don't ride off into the sunset. The prospect of Heigl parlaying a profitable franchise out of Evanovich's novels seems dubious given the uninspired quality of this one. Watching "Money" revived painful memories of Kathleen Turner's attempt to turn the Sara Paretsky novels about a Chicago private eye into a franchise with the ill-fated "V.I. Warshawski." "One for the Money" relies blatantly on stereotypes, some sexy as well as racist, primarily a loquacious couple of African-American prostitutes behaving like "Amos & Andy." Essentially, "One for the Money" emerges as a predictable fish-out-of-water comedy without enough laughs.
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