Surprise, surprise: A USA network telepic about a mother-and-daughter bounty hunting team transcends its genre trappings and becomes a delightful, comic romp, packed with eccentric characters and smart dialogue straight out of Elmore Leonard. Since pic is based on a true story, all quibbles about the believability of the premise will have to be shelved.
Bruno Heller’s kick-ass script does a smooth job of setting up the unusual situation. After expert bounty hunter Ralph Thorson (Craig T. Nelson) is killed in a car explosion, his wife Dottie (Annette O’Toole) and tough-as-nails 18-year-old daughter Brandie (Aleksa Palladino) decide to take matters in their own hands.
Dottie is hesitant to follow in her husband’s footsteps at first, but her daughter convinces her to walk on the wild side when the bills start piling up. An unexpected addition to their amateur act is their first assignment, a ready-for-action prostitute (Alanna Ubach) who joins the team after Dottie pays her bail money.
There’s more trouble in store for these industrious ladies, and they work hard for the money, especially when they decide to track down Thorson’s killer. And although there are a couple of nifty plot twists down the line, half the fun is watching the “Roller Jam”-viewing denizens of this particular community deal with the obstacles in their way.
Pic has an abundance of hilarious throwaway lines (“How San Fernando of you,” says one oddball character played by Vicki Lewis). It’s also packed with beer-soaked scenes; in one, a lowlife actor’s closest brushes with fame are revealed to be appearances in such films as “Genital Ben” and “King Dong.” In this quirky pic, the lead actress’s tender love scene take place in a bathroom, where she has to assist a handcuffed biker unzip his pants to relieve himself.
What makes the project such a breath of fresh air is the efficient way helmer Jeffrey Reiner moves along the plot without sacrificing character development. Standouts among the cast are O’Toole, who has a perfect comic zing as a sheltered woman thrown into a perilous situation, and Palladino as a young woman who’s not afraid of confronting the scoundrels they meet along the way. Also interesting to watch are supporting players James Remar, Vicki Lewis, Luis Guzman and Michael Bowen.
Lenser Feliks Parnell, production designer Pam Warner and the ace music team of Russell Sims, Jon Spencer and Jamey Staub are also help upping the pic’s likability factor. Now, how about booking the two huntresses for a regular weekly series in the fall?