You could go nuts with the double entendres associated with One for the Money, beginning, of course, with the film’s title. The gluttony of Katherine Heigl’s inexplicably street-smart character Stephanie Plum—for money, bad guys, and most of all food—can be easily applied to the former Grey’s Anatomy star’s career path. Heigl, it seems, hasn’t met a headlining opportunity she wouldn’t plow through like junk food in order to hit pay dirt (“I’m not going to say no to a cupcake,” Stephanie eventually says). A mix of Rosalind Russell, Erin Brockovich, and Sandra Bullock’s Gracie Hart (who gobbled up steak and spaghetti with the same elbows-out voracity Stephanie shows while downing oodles of product placement), Heigl’s latest cipher is a dyed-in-the-nylon Jersey girl who loses her Macy’s job in underwear sales and has to spend a lot more time at her parents’ house in Trenton, where home cookin’ and bad wallpaper reign supreme. Desperate, Stephanie turns to her cousin Vinnie (no joke), who’s suckered into giving her a job in bail bonds, sending her after most-wanted jumper Joe Morelli (Jason O’Mara), the guy who also popped Stephanie’s cherry on a bakery floor in high school (“Half the women in Jersey sold Morelli their cannoli,” one character says). Plausibility is snuffed out like a cigarette butt as Stephanie shows instant savvy for the job, despite her only hard-assed qualification being that she “sold lingerie to women in Newark.”
Heigl has pluck, and she’s a fairly likable actress, but it’s next to impossible to respect someone who habitually takes on garbage projects (the best image might be that of Stephanie sitting on a desk, post-dumpster-dive, carefully slathered in grime). Her pulpy, old-school, battle-of-the-sexes banter with O’Mara fails miserably (“We’re ancient history, like the pyramids, baby”), and her insistence on finding the quickest path to becoming the next Bullock, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez, or Sarah Jessica Parker makes her considerably worse than all of them. Studio heads would likely argue that since Heigl and her ilk are able to sell movies on their own, we are in a time of progress. But so many of these movies void out their own feminism, and what’s worse, a whole lot of them are made by women.
Helming One for the Money is Julie Anne Robinson, who also directed Heigl in a handful of Grey’s Anatomy episodes. Responsible for the script, an adaptation of Janet Evanovich’s 1990s paperback hit, are Liz Brixius (Nurse Jackie), Karen Ray, and Stacy Sherman, the latter of whom is known for the short film Goodnight, Vagina. This crew of women wants to make good on the opening credits’ animated promise of lipstick and bullets, and have Stephanie pump some potent estrogen into a world of muscles, brute force, and doting, slutty secretaries. But Stephanie still needs to taunt men with her pert breasts, she still needs a man to help nab the crooks, and at the end, when her arc of empowerment should be complete, she’s still fumbling around in her purse for the pepper spray. This isn’t girl-power filmmaking, this is cutesy contentment, a production team of gals enforcing their own stereotypes by willfully succumbing to demographic views of sexist Hollywood honchos.
But even worse than One for the Money’s chauvinistic surrender is its sideshow depiction of New Jersey, a state that’s evidently populated by no one but rude Italians. Thanks to The Sopranos and who knows how many reality shows, the Garden State has become the new Beantown, a caricatured harbor for quaint, “realistic” tenements and women defined by hair and nail extensions (Sherri Shepherd gets a bit part as a Snooki-like prostitute). The film’s danger zone of Trenton is more Hanna-Barbera than run-down hellhole, packed with places like Vinnie’s Bail Bonds and Sal’s Butcher Shop, and a gaggle of tongue-twisting gangster names that are hardly worth juggling. Stephanie herself is a walking ad for in-vogue Jersey jokery, offering born-and-bred “survival tips” like how to pull a car’s master fuse, and telling her girlfriend she’s “making ravioli in high heels.” At one point, she meets a hunky pro bounty hunter (Daniel Sunjata), and in her best Drea de Matteo, quacks, “He’s like the statue of David by Michelangelo, if you dipped him in caramel and strapped some heat on him.” One for the Money is like The Bounty Hunter by Andy Tennant, if you dipped it in self-tanner and strapped some Four Loko on it.