Janet Evanovich has now written 18 novels in the “Stephanie Plum” series that began with One for the Money. Many of them were bestsellers, and the initial offering actually spent 75 consecutive weeks on USA Today’s list of 150 best selling books. That must be why it seemed logical to take that debut novel and turn it into a major motion picture, with Katherine Heigl in the lead role as Stephanie Plum.
The movie opens with Ms. Plum driving to dinner at her parents’ home in a crowded New Jersey neighborhood for dinner. She’s not in the best of spirits as she is almost completely broke, lost her retail store sales job some six months earlier and there are more fiscal woes on the horizon. Her mother mentions that her cousin Vinnie the bail bondsman is looking to hire someone and she goes there the next day to see about the job.
Vinnie, who is sleazy enough that he most likely glides rather than walking upright, has filled the filing position, but he gives in to Stephanie’s pleas to make her a bounty hunter, although she prefers the term “recovery agent”. She has no skills for the job, save looking nice in a tight, short skirt, but Vinnie really doesn’t have a choice. He’s on the hook for $500,000 he put up in bail for local cop Joe Morelli (Jason O’Mara) who has been accused of murder. Morelli claims it was a shooting in self-defense, but what seems to be the only witness is gone, along with any trace of a gun that might have been used by the victim. He’s jumped bail and if Stephanie can bring him in, she’ll collect $50,000.
Stephanie soon learns she really isn’t prepared to bring in a cop, who has way more experience, training and street smarts than she. So she enlists the help of Ranger (Daniel Sunjata), a seasoned recovery agent who looks more like a figure out of a special-operations video game. He provides some much needed assistance and seems to appear whenever Stephanie needs to be bailed out of any mess she’s gotten herself into.
The trail to find Morelli winds and wends its way through the dirty streets of urban Jersey and takes Stephanie past a pair of hookers, one of whom is named Lula (Sherri Shepherd). Lula is willing to provide information to Stephanie, unlike the manager of a fighter at a nearby gym. The fighter’s manager, Jimmy Alpha (John Leguizamo) seems okay, but is less than helpful, while his fighter Benito is downright confrontational.
Evanovich’s novel is a page-turner, worthy of a read if you’re into the romantic/comedic/mystery type thing. Apparently something went wrong in translating it from the page to the screen, as what was almost impossible to put down while reading fails to hold one’s attention on the big screen, in spite of the physical appeal of Heigl, and the spot-on casting of Sanjuta, Shepherd and Leguizamo. Also delightful is Debbie Reynolds in a too small role as Stephanie’s kooky grandmother.
Clearly part of the problem is director Robinson, whose work on the small screen (Grey’s Anatomy, Holby City, Private Practice and Doctors [notice a trend??]) has clearly not prepared her for telling a novel-length story. The script captures some of the wit and humor of Evanovich’s novel just fine, but doesn’t engage the audience in anywhere near the same way the book does. It will definitely provoke a number of laughs, and a few good moments, but in the end, One for the Money isn’t worth the cash, unless you catch the cheap matinee viewing.