In 10 Words or Less
Yet another disappointing transition from book to film
Loves: The bounty hunter mythos
Likes: Action comedies
Dislikes: Katherine Heigl's acting
Hates: Lazy plot devices
Outside of the psychos who slander entire races and ethnicities or the criminals hiding out in Europe, it's hard to find a movie star more universally reviled than Katherine Heigl. Thanks to a run of bad romantic comedies, her dismissal of her only real movie success (Knocked Up) and the ugly way she left the show that made her a star, it's rather hard to find anyone who would profess to being a Heigl fan. In fact, three of the top hits in Google for her name include "Does Everyone Still Hate Katherine Heigl?", "Why I hate Katherine Heigl... again" and "Why Is Katherine Heigl So Annoying?" And yet, she continues to find a way to get starring roles (even if those parts are becoming increasingly spaced out in time.)
Her most recent star-turn put her in the heels of Stephanie Plum, for 18 years the bounty hunter star of Janet Evanovich's huge-selling series of novels. Somehow, this well-regarded character with millions of fans somehow ended up being portrayed on film by an actress so poorly-received by the general populace that she may have prevented another 17-plus novels from being adapted. The sad thing is, Heigl, who may be the most generic leading lady of her generation, could possibly be entertaining as Plum (and is in the third quarter of the film when she has her act together), but something isn't working, and the blame could be spread to several members of the team.
For those who don't know, including myself coming into the film, Stephanie Plum is a rookie bounty hunter, after being a failure at most everything else in her life, with the exception of being attractive. Whereas some people are "from Jersey" and make sure you're aware of it, Plum IS Jersey, from her accent to her Italian stereotypes to her inability to not be defined by the men in her life. Every time you meet her family, including Debbie Reynolds as her delightfully kooky grandma, or see her best friend shopping for Italian food, you'll wonder why Jersey Shore gets complaints for its portrayal of the state.
After getting fired from her job selling lingerie at Macy's, and facing a mounting pile of bills, she needs to make some quick money. So she turns to her cousin Vinny (seriously?) who runs a bail bonds business, and he sets her up as a skip tracer. Her first job? Joe Morelli (Jason O'Mara), a cop accused of murder, who happened to be the guy who took her virginity on the floor of a bakery when she was 17. Though she's able to find him repeatedly, she's such an awful bounty hunter (and woman in general) that he charms his way to freedom again and again. Let's say that again: she allows an accused murderer who already screwed her over (literally and figuratively) to sweet talk her out of collaring him. Way to go, Steph. Bringing him in, collecting the big price-tag on his head and getting revenge for a slight from her teen years is what powers this story from beginning to end.
The thing is, she has little to no instinct for the work, and without the help of her target, as well as that of a studly bounty hunter extraordinaire named Ranger (Daniel Sunjata) and not to mention a whole bunch of good luck, she would be very dead, very quickly. Yet, somehow she manages to gather some sleuthing skills (through osmosis maybe?) and a black belt in bad-assery in short order, only to lose both when its convenient for the story. Obviously, such inconsistency, when combined with dialogue that approximates a noir film, as transcribed by a tween listening while watching a marathon of The Sopranos, is quite obviously the fault of the writers, of which there are three.
Oddly, they get massive credits on the box art, included there twice, despite being basically unknown in this genre, having written shorts, a well-received documentary and, thanks to the involvement of Liz Brixius, the moderately popular Nurse Jackie. If they are supposed to be a selling point, I must be missing their appeal. The only truly interesting characters, mainly Reynolds' grandma and Sherri Shepherd's sassy hooker, look to be mainly a product of the actors' interpretations (and charm.)
The other main suspect in this mess is the director, Julie Anne Robinson (also listed twice on the box art in BOLD PRINT), who seems to have taken her cues from Heigl in trying to make the film look like any number of other comedic mysteries that have come down the pike. Outside of a few scenes saved by the production value of the set, most of the film is flat and boring, and the story is told without much style. How someone looked at her resume, which includes the Miley Cyrus weeper The Last Song and a litany of TV shows and movies, and thought, lets wager a potential franchise on a director with nothing on the CV to indicates she can tackle this material is the next mystery Evanovich should get Plum to investigate.
This film arrives on a Blu-Ray in a standard Blu keepcase with a slipcover that repeats the cover art. The disc includes options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the languages and check out the extras. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English, English SDH and Spanish.
The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer is quite nice, utilizing all the opportunities afforded by Blu-Ray's spacious discs to offer up extremely high levels of fine detail, with deep dark black levels and well-representative color, even if the world of Stephanie Plum can be a bit blue and muddy much of the time. Though there's an occasional bit of artifacting in small spots, overall you'd be hard pressed to notice the problems (since you're too focused on how a film made in 2010s thought using a plot device from the 1960s was a good idea.)
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is rather impressive considering how much of the film is about talking (and talking and talking.) Instead of a pure chatfest, you get some nice atmospheric effects in the surround speakers, along with excellent sound effects (with appropriate dynamic mixing when gunplay is involved or any of the other action takes place (while the front-and-center dialogue is clean and strong as well.)
"Making the Money: Behind the Scenes" (11:01) The cast and crew (along with some notes from Evanovich) talk about the challenge of adapting a beloved series of novels for the screen. Hearing these professionals say all these positive things about the film that fly in the face of what actually appeared on-screen, will make most people scoff, and could make fans of the books fume.
"Bond Girls: Kicking Ass in the Bail Bonds Industry" (10:28) is an excellent addition to the package, as it looks at the women who perform Plum's job in real-life, focusing on the challenges and advantages of being a woman in the industry, along with some insight into how the bail bond process works. The inclusion of some on-the-job video makes it even more interesting, and frankly entertaining. (Note: Though the film is PG-13, there are several F-bombs dropped in this extra.)
A gag reel (2:37) offers a few very amusing moments, but most of it is just your usual screw-ups. It seems like there had to be more from the chicken scene, but you won't find it here. There's also one deleted scene, a make-out scene between Plum and Morelli that's offered with no context, so it just sits there. In addition, there's the film's theatrical trailer, which is less impressive than I remembered it, along with several other Lionsgate promos.
Also included in the package is a code to download a digital copy of the film.
The Bottom Line
Though I've never read Evanovich's novels, I'm well aware of their popularity, which is why it's so weird that a such an underwhelming creative crew was handed the keys to such a huge franchise, and allowed to drive said franchise into the next available lightpost. And if the reason was to make something for female audiences, then they deserved this film's fate, as women deserve better than mediocre pandering and Nicholas Sparks adaptations, and there are better female creatives working today. This film is uneven at best and cartoonish at its worst, finishing plainly and sadly as disappointingly. The opportunity to tell the story of a woman trying to adapt to a entirely new world (and a rough one at that) is so promising, unless you make your heroine a co-dependent bubblehead while still trying to sell her as tough and resilient. At least the presentation and the extras offer something of value and interest, because the main film falls sadly short of that.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.