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Today in Great Hatchet Jobs

[ 85 ] January 31, 2012 |

When a studio 1)dumps a movie based on an expensively acquired series of detective novels clearly intended to be a franchise in the January dead zone, 2)based on the Saturday reviews apparently refuses to screen it for critics, and 3)it stars Katherine Heigl, winner of the 2011 Nic Cage Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Indiscriminate Script Approval, the review pretty much writes itself.   Nonetheless, to his credit A.O. Scott put in more effort than the filmmakers:

“One for the Money,” the latest Katherine Heigl vehicle to park itself in the multiplexes, is also the title of a best-selling novel by Janet Evanovich. It is worth stating this fact at the outset to avoid the mistaken but entirely plausible assumption that the phrase somehow made its way onto the lobby posters from the subject line of an e-mail from Ms. Heigl’s agent.

There are now 18 volumes in Ms. Evanovich’s series about Stephanie Plum, the Trenton bounty hunter played by Ms. Heigl with brown hair and an accent that might suggest New Jersey to someone who once overheard a conversation about an episode of “The Sopranos.” “One for the Money,” in other words, is an attempt to inaugurate a new movie franchise, something that might appeal to women and mystery fans. This is a perfectly sound ambition, but the movie, directed by Julie Anne Robinson from a script by Stacy Sherman, Karen Ray and Liz Brixius, is so weary and uninspired that it feels more like an exhausted end than an energetic beginning.

[...]

A caper unfolds, clumsily and without much conviction, bringing Stephanie into contact with a cheerful prostitute (Sherri Shepherd), a nasty kickboxer (Gavin-Keith Umeh) and his trainer (John Leguizamo), and various others. There is action of a sort — a car blows up, shots are fired — and what might pass for witty, sexy banter to someone who once overheard a conversation about an episode of “Moonlighting.”

Speaking of television, the one mildly interesting thing about “One for the Money” — apart from Debbie Reynolds’s scene-stealing shtick as Stephanie’s grandmother — is that it offers a data point for those studying the cultural decline of cinema. I don’t mean this in any grandiose or melodramatic way. Not long ago it would have been possible to convey the bland, lazy, pedestrian qualities of this picture — its lackadaisical pacing, by-the-numbers performances, irritating music and drab visual texture — by likening it to a made-for-TV movie or an episode of a series on basic cable. But nowadays that would be praise, and movies like this must set their own standard for mediocrity.

Comments (85)

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  1. c u n d gulag says:

    Ah, apparently yet another example of why I can’t stand any of today’s Hollywood movies.

    I’ll stick to “The Thin Man” series, and all of the other great movies on Turner Classic Movies.

    “Hey, you movie-watching, tubby-assed, popcorn and jumbo-Coke downing, kids – GET OFF MY F*CKING LAWN!!!”

  2. Mudge says:

    The genre has not done well. I pesent “V.I. Warshawski”(1991) as another example of a hideous film about a female detective based on a popular series of books. I find it difficult to believe “One for the Money” is worse.

  3. Marek says:

    Truly, there is nothing like a good bad review. When I lived in DC, lo these many years ago, I looked forward to the City Paper each week just for this kind of brilliance.

  4. rea says:

    The novels are amusing froth, at times quite funny, very cinematic. You’d think someone would really have to work at making an awful movie out of them . . .

    • J. Otto Pohl says:

      Amazingly I find myself in agreement.

      • LKS says:

        Without seeing the movie, I must wonder whether the problem is that the movie is indeed complete shite (probably, given the timing and manner of release) or that male reviewers and studio execs don’t “get it”.

        A lot of men (certainly not all) don’t “get” the appeal of this genre to women, especially working class and single women (or they think they get it, but they don’t really). I can easily imagine a male NY Times reviewer totally not getting it at all.

        • piny says:

          Well, but isn’t there also a problem with male directors and producers getting it? Look at The Color Purple.

          • Lee says:

            One for the Money was based on a novel written by a woman, the script seems to be written by a trio of women and its directed by a woman. This project has female involvement on and off screen.

            • Saurs says:

              Which is probably why it’s the subject of so much furious ire. Men make terrible, infuriatingly stupid low-brow comedies all the time, and as audiences we’re asked to treat such films at the enjoyable but disposable fluff that they are. As women are so underrepresented in front of and behind the camera, it seems a bit unjust to pile on every time they work together to make a film the Rogen-Apatow set would enjoy if it starred their favorite dudes.

              • Lee says:

                While I admit that low-brow male-oriented comedies get passes more often than low-brow comedies oriented at women, they do get blasted if reviewed by the right critics.

                Another problem is that the tastes of female critics seem to be more inclined to high culture than the average male critic. Many female critics also seem not to get the appeal of movies like One for the Money.

                • Saurs says:

                  Women are not immune to sexism, and women have low-brow tastes, yes. We’re not just celebrated for those tastes, ‘cos they’re slightly threatening to men.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                Men make terrible, infuriatingly stupid low-brow comedies all the time, and as audiences we’re asked to treat such films at the enjoyable but disposable fluff that they are.

                Not by good critics. Take a look at the reviews for any of Adam Sandler’s projects from last year.

                • Saurs says:

                  But then nobody is suggesting in print that he’s passed his sell-by date ‘cos he’s getting haggard or he’s only acquiring roles because he’s a hot piece of tail, either. This is a double standard thing, guys.

        • Lee says:

          There isn’t really anything wrong by having a movie reviewed by a person who doesn’t “get it” because the reviewer isn’t in the target demograhpic. A reviewer that doesn’t “get it” is more likely to be able to find the flaws of a movie and point out that it is a bad movie rather than let them glide by because its expected in the genre or by the fans.

          • Ed says:

            The point is that mediocre buddy movies get a pass and the Sex and the City franchise, for example, gets clubbed to death. I’m sure One for the Money isn’t very good but poor movies featuring men are released all the time and they may get panned but they aren’t generally singled out for pistol-whipping.

            As women are so underrepresented in front of and behind the camera, it seems a bit unjust to pile on every time they work together to make a film the Rogen-Apatow set would enjoy if it starred their favorite dudes.

            There are signs of a shift in attitude. I think Bridesmaids was actually treated somewhat better than it deserved precisely because it was a crude comedy featuring women. I guess it does represent progess of a sort.

            Heigl got in trouble for her candor when she spoke about the treatment of the female characters in Knocked Up. It probably seemed like rank ingratitude to Apatow, but she was right.

            Actors often have to choose among the best that’s offered to them and the best may not be that good. One for the Money seems to be doing slightly better than expected, so Heigl may get the last laugh.

            • sparks says:

              Are you saying that she was blindsided by how Knocked Up treated women? Somehow I don’t believe that.

              Actors with considerably more power than her have taken parts in numerous duff films. Some have even produced those same films. I don’t think it’s so clear that this was the best she could do.

              • Ed says:

                I don’t believe Heigl ever used the word “blindsided” or anything like it. She said she was unhappy that aspect of the picture (nor did she “trash” the movie). Her remarks were impolitic but her description of the portrayal of female characters was on target.

                I don’t think it’s so clear that this was the best she could do.

                Heigl’s career hasn’t exactly flourished in the last five years or so. Good roles for female actors, and this is true for stars of higher wattage than Heigl, are hard to come by. Obviously I don’t know for certain this was the best on offer, but it’s a reasonable assumption.

          • LKS says:

            There isn’t really anything wrong by having a movie reviewed by a person who doesn’t “get it”

            If the purpose of film criticism in a wide-circulation newspaper (as opposed to academic or literary film criticism) is not to knowledgably inform and assist the targeted demographic in deciding whether to spend their valuable time and hard-earned cash on seeing the film, then what the fuck, exactly, is the point?

            Oh wait…it’s the NYT. Never mind.

    • BigHank53 says:

      One of the most discouraging things I ever learned from my Hollywood friend is that it takes exactly the same amount of effort, hard work, and dedication to make a crappy film as it does a good one.

      • LKS says:

        I’ve read enough books about how movies get made to conclude that good movies are largely the product of accident rather than intent.

        For example, Albert Finney turning down the title role in Lawrence of Arabia.

  5. R. Porrofatto says:

    I read two of her books after the NY Times gave Ivanovich a tongue bath (the second was only to see if the first was an exception; it wasn’t). The Times must have owed her publisher a favor. Not surprised that A.O. Scott would invoke “made-for-TV movie” since it’s the first thing that came to mind, which felt like reading a bad Lifetime Movie. I will never understand their popularity.

  6. Joshua says:

    Heigl has really stunk it up since Knocked Up (and she took the time to trash the people who made that movie too). That romcom she did with Gerard Butler might be the worst I’ve ever seen, and thanks to my girlfriend I see most of them.

    • BigHank53 says:

      One would imagine that sooner or later Heigl would realize that “selecting projects” is not where her talent lies, and delegate the task to someone qualified. It looks like it’s going to be later.

      • Halloween Jack says:

        The problem with Heigl’s ability to select projects is that, despite her semi-explicable popularity, nobody wants to work with her twice due to her toxic personality. (Which makes the idea of her featuring in a recurring series extra-funny.)

    • Erik Loomis says:

      It is remarkable that for all the attempts to make her a star, every single one has failed miserably. I don’t suppose trashing Knocked Up helped, but it didn’t hurt her either given the amount of starring roles she continues to get.

  7. TL says:

    “Katherine Heigl, winner of the 2011 Nic Cage Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Indiscriminate Script Approval”

    I have some sympathy for Heigl on this point, as well as any young actress. Heigl is only going to be young and beautiful for a very short period of time, after which Hollywood will likely have little use for her. So it’s not an irrational choice to grab as much money as she can up front.

    Now, of course, there’s the question of whether a young actress could, through better role selection, extend her career arc and lifetime earning potential by not making audiences tire of her. But in Heigl’s case, I’m not sure that she has the acting chops to take that route as, say, Michelle Willams probably does.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      The other thing Michelle Williams has going for her is an apparent indifference to be the next big It Girl in Hollywood. Wendy and Lucy is not going to make anyone a star, but it is going to make you employable by anyone interested in making quality film for a long time.

      On the other hand, I am a huge fan of Michelle Williams’ work, so maybe I am biased. Even though the Marilyn Monroe movie wasn’t very good, she was very solid in it.

      • Spud says:

        The other thing Michelle Williams has going for her is an apparent indifference to be the next big It Girl in Hollywood.

        And she is not afraid to get naked on camera. Never a bad thing.

      • Ed says:

        I would say the Marilyn picture represents Williams’ bid to get in on some of that It Girl stuff (and out of indies and perennial co-star status), although the movie was in some respects a demonstration of what she still lacks in that department.

    • Jestak says:

      As Goldie Hawn put it, “In Hollywood, a woman has three ages–Babe, District Attorney and Driving Miss Daisy.” Too put it bluntly, Heigl doesn’t seem likely to “cross the babe threshold” with any success. Michelle Williams, on the other hand, is probably going to make it across with ease.

  8. el donaldo says:

    Plus they filmed it in Pittsburgh. Not that urban versimilitude is all that critical for film-making, but, man, Trenton is one city that could use a leg up.

  9. actor212 says:

    OK, so Heigl is not cutting it (which I presumed from the fact that the promos for the movie only show her running, shooting, or being thrown to the ground.)

    So who would? What actress of that age would portray a decent PI? We’ve had Keira Knightley try and fail already, and don’t get me started on the cast of the ridiculous “Killers.”

    Rhona Mitra could do it except a) she’s way too sexy for this role and b) she’d have an even hardah toim wit a Joisey axsent.

  10. dyz says:

    This makes me even more glad that Sue Grafton refuses to sell her series for movie rights.

  11. efgoldman says:

    It was so much easier in the old days, when everyone knew what the contract-filling B movies were. Audiences expected nothing, and weren’t disappointed.

    Someone mentioned the Thin Man series upthread. I don’t think anyone thought of those as “cinema” or “art” when they were made.

    • hilker says:

      The Thin Man was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture.

      • Lee says:

        The fact that something was nominated for Oscars does not necessarily make it art. The Thin Man is fine movie, its witty and fun to watch. It isn’t art though. There is a very fine line between art and entertainment and its often hard to tell the difference between the two. The Thin Man leans towards entertainment IMO because the ultimate goal was just to entertain the audience for awhile rather than anything grander. Art should at least have some goal besies merely providing entertainment.

  12. “…Katherine Heigl, winner of the 2011 Nic Cage Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of
    Indiscriminate Script Approval…”

    I do believe this was originally the “Michael Caine Award.”* It is quickly (quickly!) becoming the “Liam Neeson Award,” possibly but not necessarily in conjunction with Ms Heigl, possibly because someone might remember who Liam Neeson is in 10-20 years.

    * Not to be confused with the “Herman Cain Award,” the existence of which I proved to myself (as predicted) by taking a minute to come up with his name just this past weekend.

  13. Julia Grey says:

    I knew the minute they said Stephanie Plum was going to be played by KATHARINE HEIGL that this attempt to film a clever, sometimes laugh-out-loud book would be a total failure.

    Holy gaud, what a lousy choice. In the books Plum is a character more in the mold of Mona Lisa Vito, as played by Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny. Languid cream-puff Heigl couldn’t be more wrong for that role, even in a brown wig. Reminds me of the casting of Kate Winslet as the supposedly ethereal, sexless blonde Anne Stanton in All the King’s Men. Ridiculous.

    I saw the trailers for One for the Money this last weekend, and the guy playing Moretti looks wrong, too. Not slim, cheek-bony and Italian enough.

    They might have gotten Ranger right, though.

  14. hickes01 says:

    The Stephanie Plum novels never really worked for me. I like the character and the setup, but the action never really moved along and the mysteries were not that compelling. My sister loves the books, but I can take or leave them.

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