One for the Money, based on the novel by Janet Evanovich, tells the story of a woman who gets hired as a bounty hunter strictly on the basis that she sold lingerie at a Macy’s in Newark. I know that this movie was intended to be a comedy, but there are some jokes that defy all sense of logic, and this is one of them. Exactly how does dealing with customers at a department store qualify you for tracking down and apprehending fugitives? Are the people of Newark really such hardened criminals? God knows you have to be one tough cookie if you’re in the market for a G-string or teddy. Seriously though, there would be a vast gray area to work your way through – like, say, having at least five years of experience in an investigative or law enforcement position, being subject to a thorough criminal history check, and being officially licensed as a private detective. All of this is required under New Jersey law.
But it seems no one thought to address these glaring technicalities. Perhaps the filmmakers (or Evanovich herself, although I have no way of knowing since I haven’t read her novel) were under the delusion that, by making it escapist and lighthearted, the story was automatically exempt from being at least somewhat realistic. I’m willing to suspend disbelief for movie romances or stunts or acts of magic, but when something as clearly defined and nonnegotiable as state bail laws are tossed onto the pile, you’ve officially lost me. That’s because the load gets far too heavy, and the cables are stretched to the point that they’re in imminent danger of snapping. You’d be much better off avoiding a potential catastrophe altogether than risk sitting underneath that extra weight.
What makes the experience especially awkward is that it’s a bizarre intermingling of romantic comedy and police drama, with just a little bit of crime thriller thrown in for good measure. At no point can this movie decide what it wants to be; when we’re not bearing witness to absurd characters and contrived situations, we’re muddling our way through a rather serious mystery plot that’s surprisingly complicated. At the center of all this is Stephanie Plum (Katherine Heigl), who recently lost her job at Macy’s and is now flat broke. She turns to her cousin (Patrick Fischler), who operates a bail bond agency, in the hopes of landing a filing job, just until she lands on her feet. That turns out to be a no go, but never fear – despite having absolutely no training and no resources, her cousin hires her as a bail enforcement agent.
We see her take on only one case she’s actually equipped to handle, namely that of an elderly nudist who insists on being taken to the police in the same state. The rest of the time, she’s entrenched in the case of her cousin’s most high-profile bail jumper. That would be Joe Morelli (Jason O’Mara), a former vice cop wanted for a murder he swears he didn’t commit. For Stephanie, this is about more than the percentage she would earn for his capture; she has a petty personal vendetta against him. When she was still in high school, you see, he seduced her at the bakery where she worked, then immediately dumped her. What better way to get her revenge than by accepting a job she’s woefully unqualified for? As it turns out, he’s just as mad at her for running over his leg with her car. She repeatedly insists it was an accident.
But catching Joe will not be as easy as Stephanie thought. For one thing, there’s her obvious lack of skills and equipment. She will eventually receive a gun and occasional backup from a low key bounty hunter nicknamed Ranger (Daniel Sunjata). The gun will be the subject of several painfully strained jokes, not the least of which is her quirky grandmother (Debbie Reynolds) playing with it at a family dinner before aiming it at the roast turkey on the table and firing a single round. And then there’s the fact that the case against Joe gets increasingly convoluted and dangerous, as those who talk to Stephanie will either be targeted or end up dead. It involves the missing girlfriend of a psychopathic boxer (Gavin-Keith Umeh), the boxer’s trainer (John Leguizamo), a possible witness to the crime in question (Leonardo Nam), a man with a flat nose, and a questionable fish shop. We also have two sass-talking hookers, one played by Sherri Shepherd, who have a good cop/bad cop thing going.
As routine as the crime portion is, it probably would have worked just fine within the confines of a drama, as there is definite payoff to the mystery. Alas, the filmmakers seize any available opportunity to inject the story with humor. Why else would it involve Stephanie’s family, including her mother (Debra Monk), a worrisome typecast who wants her daughter to get married and sets her up with a buffoon? Why else would half of the story be about Stephanie and Joe, who obviously still have feelings for one another? Why else would the plot be founded on Stephanie entering the world of bail enforcement? That’s the one thing about One for the Money that really eats away at me. Stephanie Plum is no more qualified to be a bounty hunter than I am to be a neurosurgeon.