"Grey's Anatomy" was a surprise hit when it premiered as a mid-season replacement on ABC in 2005, rocketing its main cast members to stardom (or, at least in Patrick Dempsey's case, rejuvenating their careers). The one who made out the biggest was 26-year-old Katherine Heigl, the former child actress previously best known for her role on the WB (later UPN ) series "Roswell".
From its first blockbuster season, Heigl seemed the member of the cast most primed for bigger things - not only was she young, blonde and beautiful, but she could also actually act. With a lingerie-model sex appeal to attract straight men and a gift for conveying sweetness and vulnerability making her just "relatable" enough to pull in women, the actress seemed destined for movie stardom.
And in the early going at least, everything went exactly according to plan. In the summer of 2007 Heigl became an instant silver-screen A-lister following her well-received role in the Judd Apatow comedy "Knocked Up", which ultimately grossed over $100 million Stateside and garnered an overflowing amount of critical praise.
The following year brought an even bigger win for the actress when "27 Dresses", her first starring vehicle as an adult, grossed over $160 million worldwide on a $30 milllion budget - over half that total coming from overseas receipts. In other words, she was a movie star who possessed both "hometown" and global appeal - a rare Hollywood commodity. 2009's "The Ugly Truth" proved an even bigger success, grossing over $200 million worldwide and cementing Heigl's bankability as a major romantic-comedy lead in the vein of forebears like Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock and Meg Ryan.
Unfortunately, Heigl's string of good luck at the box-office didn't last long. Things got wobbly the following year, when her next film "Killers" proved an out-and-out flop, even with the star appeal of co-lead Ashton Kutcher to help bolster sales. Many in the press pointed to the actress' increasingly negative public persona, which had continued to worsen following her earlier public disses of both "Knocked Up" (she called the script "sexist") and the writers of "Grey's Anatomy", who she blamed as being the reason behind her refusal to submit her name for Emmy consideration in 2008.
Later in 2010, "Life or Something Like It" co-starring Josh Duhamel performed marginally better than "Killers" (it was also made on a relatively modest $38 million budget) but failed to turn out the audiences Heigl had commanded with her first two starring efforts. In short, the plan was falling apart.
Sadly, said plan doesn't look likely to fall back into place with the release of Heigl's next film, another rom-com entitled "One for the Money" that's due to hit theaters next January. You want reasons? I've got five.
1. The premise is far too evocative of "The Bounty Hunter"
"One for the Money" stars Heigl as a down-on-her-luck New Jersey divorcee who is forced to take a job as bail bondswoman to make ends meet. Complications arise when one of the criminals she's tasked with bringing in turns out to be an ex-lover. Sound familiar?
To be fair, "One for the Money" is based on a novel that was published way back in 1994, and unlike Aniston in "The Bounty Hunter", Heigl's character is the one doing the pursuing rather than the one being pursued. And yet I can't help but feel like this is a "been-there-done-that" kind of situation. "The Bounty Hunter", after all, is less than two years old, and while the "One for the Money" trailer admittedly takes a bit of a different approach (it makes only a passing reference to the previous relationship between the two leads whereas ads for "The Bounty Hunter"' made it the primary focus), particularly in the last half there's a strong sense of deja vu.
2. A lot of people still don't like her
Unfortunately, Heigl's public image still seems to be dogged by her past PR flubs. Sure, it's unfair - like it or not, female celebs are still expected to hold back their opinions while their male counterparts can get away with murder and still go on to have successful careers - but that's unfortunately the society we find ourselves in, meaning a lot of people who otherwise might have actually paid to see "One for the Money" won't show up for the very reason that Heigl is in it. She simply doesn't have the reputation of stars like Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan and Sandra Bullock, who were so successful as rom-com heroines because most people actually liked them.
3. Jason O'Mara is like Gerard Butler without the name recognition
When Heigl co-starred opposite Butler in "The Ugly Truth", he was already an A-lister thanks to his leading role in Zack Snyder's blockbuster 2007 action film "300". And while Jason O'Mara is well-known his TV work (he currently stars on Fox's "Terra Nova"), he's far from a movie star. In other words, whoever shows up for "Money" is most likely going to show up for Heigl, and I'm not sure she has enough fans left to make the film a hit.
4. Audiences won't buy her as a downtrodden, unemployed Jersey-ite
Heigl's two biggest hits had her starring as driven career women, but in "One for the Money" she's an "unemployed and newly-divorced" former lingerie saleswoman from New Jersey. And this is where the actress' PR problems come back into play. Because she's seen by many as a stuck-up, entitled whiner; having her portray an "everywoman" of little means probably won't do much but inspire eye-rolls among those already inclined to dislike her.
5. The trailer is kinda "meh"
Obviously we won't know for sure whether the movie is any good or not until we can see it for ourselves, but the rather generic (if fitfully amusing) trailer doesn't exactly inspire a lot of confidence, and movies like "One for the Money" tend to live and die on their ad campaigns. If Heigl were still in the public's overall good graces this might not matter as much, but her star is clearly on the wane - and I doubt that "Money" can turn that around.
"One for the Money" hits theaters on January 27, 2012