Believe it or not, once upon a time some of us actually liked Katherine Heigl. She had (or at least displayed) genuine verve and vulnerability and charm, and if you tried hard enough you could imagine her one day achieving The Full Julia. So perhaps the saddest thing about the very sad One for the Money is just how far away those days now seem. In this wan adaptation of the first of Janet Evanovich’s 18 novels featuring Stephanie Plum (that’s right, at some point somebody thought this might become a franchise), Heigl plays the down-on-her-luck Jersey heroine who reluctantly but desperately takes a job working for a sleazy bail bondsman; she winds up having to bring in an old flame, a cop accused of murder. Plum is supposed to be out of her element here, but she’s also supposed to discover inner reserves of pluck, wit, sass, and ingenuity (asked early on how comfortable she is with low-lives, she replies, “I sold lingerie for three years in Newark!”). So why does Heigl – and the film around her – display none?
Narrating the story in what amounts to a drone (enhanced by an unfortunate, though thankfully subtle, Jersey accent), Heigl sleepwalks through her scenes, and there’s something curiously willful about her indifference to what’s going on. When she connects with her old high school flame and now-murder-suspect Joe Morelli (Jason O’Mara), we’re supposed to see sparks fly and old attractions re-enflamed, but the two barely seem to know each other; their body language feels completely off. (This thing makes the Gerard Butler-Jennifer Aniston vehicle The Bounty Hunter look like Elvira Madigan.) Mixing genres, the movie is supposed to be romantic, funny, and suspenseful, but the only tension generated comes from the awkwardness of watching actors who clearly don’t want to be anywhere near each other. Some films fall apart because the actors seem to be having too much fun. (Ocean’s 12 comes to mind.) This is one that falls apart because everybody on screen seems to be dying inside, and we can smell it.
One can’t just blame it on the actors. The script allows characters to drift in and out of the story seemingly at random – mysteries and crime stories do tend to be structured in this episodic way, but there’s usually a sense of purpose, a feeling that it’s all building towards something definable and exciting. Here, it feels slipshod and disjointed, almost as if scenes have been placed out of order. True, the intention here is to keep things lighthearted, with a minimum of fuss, but absent any actual humor or wit or charm, the result is just glacial inconsequentiality.
Could the odd filmmaking then be the result partly of these aforementioned qualities? As if, maybe, director Julie Ann Robinson is trying to cover for the bad performances and the lame script (and her own flat footage)? Random lines of dialogue seem to hang in the air awkwardly, but then again sometimes everything seems cut to within an inch of its life, with characters speaking over each other in an inorganically annoying, ping-ponging way. The whole thing feels unnatural, as if someone was trying to create a rhythm for the movie in the editing room. Not surprisingly, they failed at that, too.