One for the Money
Have gun, will primp
Why do best-selling mystery series featuring female detectives have such a hard time on the big screen? Even though Kathleen Turner was still close to the peak of her Kathleen Turner-ness 20 years ago, her playing Sara Paretsky’s Chicago-based heroine in “V.I. Warshawsky’’ was a dud. Now joining Turner in distaff detective dud-dom is Katherine Heigl, playing Janet Evanovich’s decidedly non-macho New Jersey-based bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum.
“One for the Money,’’ based on the first novel in the series, isn’t terrible. Terrible might have been more interesting. Like Heigl, the director, Julie Anne Robinson, is a veteran of “Grey’s Anatomy,’’ and the movie has the by-the-numbers efficiency of a decent TV series, and about as much flavor.
Having been laid off six months earlier as the manager of a Macy’s lingerie department, Stephanie’s so desperate for a job she goes to work for her cousin, a bail bondsman. She can earn herself $50,000 by bringing in a cop charged with murder (Jason O’Mara) who’s skipped bail. Even better, a decade later she’s still smarting over his having dumped her after a one-night stand in high school. So Stephanie is definitely on the case. This eventually leads to encounters with a couple of comedy-relief hookers, several other murders, and a heroin ring.
The biggest problem “One for the Money’’ faces is trying to have it both ways: gritty-ethnic inner city vs. girly-girly comic. “One-hundred twenty-five pounds of angry female can do a lot of damage,’’ Stephanie boasts after tackling a bad guy - “130, tops’’ (which would be a lot funnier if Heigl had any reason to joke about her weight). This is chick-lit Elmore Leonard. And while Heigl doesn’t embarrass herself, neither she nor Robinson has the kind of knack for the offbeat needed to exploit such eccentric material.
The best things in “One for the Money’’ all have an out-of-left-field quality the rest of the movie lacks. Leonardo Nam, as a crime witness, hilariously channels his inner Jeff Spicoli, ninja division. Debbie Reynolds turns up as Stephanie’s grandma, doing her demented-twinkle bit. She even gets to shoot a .38. Some venturesome theater company could make a big impression by starring her in a drag “King Lear.’’ Who might have guessed half a century ago that Reynolds would become a consistent source of crazed delight onscreen? Maybe that’ll be true for Heigl, too, in another 50 years. For now, though, she’s a humdrum, glum Stephanie Plum.
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.