Monday, January 30, 2012

Being Fair

Ah, we are getting into the month of February...where romantic comedies abound thanks to Valentine's Day and where other films go to die.  February, like January, has that terrible reputation of being a dumping ground for films studios don't have much faith in.  It should come as no surprise then that, aside from a few annual exceptions, the films released here often get bad reviews.  Notice that I didn't say that these films actually are bad...as some analysts and critics would have you believe...rather because it is well-known in the industry that these months are landfills, critics tend to be harsher and much less in the mood to watch these films (which is odd, since you'd think that films picked last for the softball team should be treated a little more gently...since we know they can't perform amongst their better-date brethren).  There are notable exceptions (many of them put in limited release in December to be eligible for awards season, but wide released in January or February to acclaim) which include Coraline, and then there really are poor films like Virus.  However, it really isn't all that different from other times in the year aside from the fact that there are very few tentpole releases.  Then there is another well-followed axiom of the film world, which is that any film that does not pre-screen for critics almost always gets terrible reviews.  Again, cynical critics and analysts would have you believe that that means the films are bad...but that is not often the case.  Critics, try as they might, are not the objective folk they try to appear to be and they are subject to the same biases and personal taste preferences as the rest of us.  They also hold a grudge when they aren't invited to a party, and when they have to see a movie with the rest of us mortals they tend to be fairly unapologetic.  However, this should not act as an actual evaluation of quality.  Many know the tale of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and how it was released unscreened for critics.  The reviewers attempted to bury the film because they were ticked at not being allowed to see it first, but the public spoke and now it is considered a classic and beyond reproach.  Heaven help a film then, if it is released in the early months of the year AND is not screened by critics.  That is the moment when people begin to make next year's Razzie Nominations.  Such a think happened this past weekend and a film that was a labor of love for many was thrown under the bus.  Were the critics too harsh or was the venom justified?  Let's see as I do my own look at a book-to-film adaptation 15 years in the making, One for the Money.

Stephanie Plum is an out of work and single woman in her 30s who lives in The Burg, a rather close knit and colorful portion of Trenton, New Jersey.  She had been working as a lingerie salesgirl at Macy's but was let go due to down-sizing.  She has no car, no income, and no skills so it seems that Stephanie may be at the end of her rope.  However, thanks largely to the urging of her Grandma Mazur, Stephanie goes to see her cousin Vinnie who runs a bail bonding company to see if she can persuade (read: blackmail) him into giving her a job as a filing clerk.  Unfortunately for Stephanie, the filing job is no longer needed.  However, the store manager Connie suggests that Stephanie look into skip-tracing.  Essentially she would track down any clients who were FTA (Failure to Appear for a Court Date) and bring them in to collect 10 percent of the bond.  Stephanie agrees upon seeing that an ex-boyfriend, Joe Morelli, has skipped bail and will net her $1000 is she can catch him.  Thus begins a cat-and-mouse game that teaches Stephanie that she needs more than a smile and her natural stubborness to catch a crook.  She begins learning the trade of bounty hunting from Ranger, a much more experienced skip tracer, and through her own experience and in doing so, begins to suspect that there is more to Morelli's case than meets the eye.  As the clock ticks forward and everyone Stephanie has talked to about the case seems to wind up dead, she begins to wonder if she is in over her head.

One for the Money currently has a 3% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 20/100 on Meta Critic which would tell anyone who relies on reviews to stay away...the message is clear: this film is worse than Ishtar or Gigli.  I have to admit, that even I was gun shy about seeing this one...and I consider myself a moderate fan of Janet Evanovich's 18 book series about the female bounty hunter (having loved the first 10 books and then feeling waning disinterest as I kept going).  However, I also couldn't understand how anyone could have made a horrible movie based on this wonderfully funny and exciting book so I went to see it anyway.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that the crowd was packed pretty tight at our theater for it as well, considering the bad press it was getting.  However, the real surprise was how much I and my fellow audience members enjoyed the picture.  No, there were no real belly laughs or guffaws, but several hearty "hah!s" and "chuckles".  Actually, the picture was darker than the trailers would have had you believe and more people were wrapped up in the mystery plot (which several reviewers had called ridiculous and ineptly handled).  Going out, I decided that no...it certainly wasn't the best action comedy I'd ever seen (that goes hands-down to Romancing the Stone), but it was still a good film (fine at worst) in that it did the job it set out to do, it entertained me.  I enjoyed Katherine Heigl's turn as Plum, much more than I thought I would, and I felt that the material remained true and in-spirit to the source material.  The comedy was amusing, and the suspense was genuine.  I could only guess, upon leaving, that I must simply have less discriminating tastes or I must have bad taste if I liked a film so loathed by critics.  How else could I explain that pleasant feeling that I felt (you know the one I mean, when you've really enjoyed your night at the flicks) afterward?  Far be it from me to imply that the critics are being overly harsh to this little yarn and it's star (the seemingly universally disliked Katherine Heigl) or to imply that with a different star, press screenings, and a better release date it might be much closer to a 45 or 50% rating (I'm not naive...it's not groundbreaking cinema).  Then again...when a film makes number three in the country despite a 3% in ratings, you do have to wonder if the opinions being shared aren't somewhat biased.

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