January 27, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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ONE FOR THE MONEY:  Not Even For Free – Another Heigl Misfire


Movie stars are, make no mistake, trademarks.  Consumers who invest in 2 hours of George Clooney or Will Smith expect the same kind of reliable enjoyment that they get from a can of Coke or a pair of Nikes.  And no movie star brand in recent years has been mishandled as badly as Katherine Heigl’s.

From all indications, Heigl has no one to blame but herself.  After a fairly successful run as a teen actress on Roswell and in some minor movies, she was the breakout star of TV’s Grey’s Anatomy, gorgeous and with the ability to handle both romantic comedy and fairly heavy drama.  When her first major big-screen role was the smash hit Knocked Up, and she followed it up with the $77M grossing 27 Dresses, the cry of “New Julia Roberts” was heard throughout the land.  And then, almost as soon as she’d made a name for herself, she started doing everything she could to demolish it.


The truth is that none of us have any idea whether George Clooney is the smooth, amiable, happy-go-lucky guy he’s established himself to be, or whether Tom Hanks is solid, trustworthy and quick-witted, or Julia Roberts is lovable and sweet.  All those stars may be nothing more than the inspired creations of publicists, brilliantly performed over a period of years.  But whenever they’re in public, they appear to live up to their personas, and that’s all we, as a public, ask.  Heigl, though, seems incapable of saying 5 consecutive sentences aloud without appearing obnoxious and ungrateful–to the writers and her other colleagues on Grey’s, to Judd Apatow and Knocked Up, and just about everyone else.  It may well be that Heigl is more honest than the more easily controlled stars around her, but movie stars sell fantasies of themselves, and Heigl’s isn’t a fantasy anyone wants to watch.


Combine that with what appears to be fairly atrocious script sense–even 27 Dresses was mediocre at best, The Ugly Truth was flat-out awful, and Killers was worse–and you have a perfect formula for decimating movie stardom in less than 5 years.  The latest painful evidence of Heigl’s situation is ONE FOR THE MONEY, a terrible movie that Heigl and her mother/manager helped develop and produce.

The picture is based on a very successful series of crime novels by Janet Evanovich (shades of Kathleen Turner’s disastrous V.I. Warshowski), and Heigl plays Stephanie Plum, a tough New Jersey girl who becomes an investigator for her cousin the bail bondsman.  For her first case, she tracks down Joe Morelli (Jason O’Mara), a cop–and ex-boyfriend of Stephanie’s–accused of murder.

There’s no need to spend much time on the lame storyline or grating dialogue of the movie (the script, which was in development for many years, is credited to Stacy Sherman, Karen Ray and Liz Brixius).  The on-the-lam murder suspect barely bothers to hide himself, and over and over, only Stephanie figures out the obvious place he’ll be.  Of course the two end up joining forces to find the real killer, and a look at the cast list makes that identity not too hard to guess.

Director Julie Anne Robinson, mostly a TV hand (including on Grey’s), doesn’t do anything to enrich the material.  The movie looks cheap and has no rhythm–an early scene with Stephanie and her family, including her dotty grandma (Debbie Reynolds) is edited so clumsily it would look amateurish on YouTube–and there’s no chemistry whatsoever between Heigl and O’Mara, despite the movie’s strenuous efforts to suggest some.  (Scenes with Daniel Sunjata as Stephanie’s bounty hunter mentor are more promising, but that’s entirely because of Sunjata.)  The “New Joisy” stereotypes are painful, and there’s not even any mindless action to enjoy.

Heigl seems to have realized that her career is in free-fall–her recent interviews have included nostalgic wishes to go back to Grey’s and revisit her character, and she’s doing an ensemble piece next, The Wedding with Robert DeNiro, Diane Keaton and Amanda Seyfried.  For now, she’s the actress version of The Devil Inside–a big opening, followed by a horrific 2d weekend fall.  Nobody expects or wants a sequel to movies like that.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."