The first novel in Janet Evanovich’s bestselling Stephanie Plum series has been in development as a film for nearly 20 years, which is apparently how long it took for everything to turn out horribly wrong. The casting of Katherine Heigl, one of the least-gritty actresses on the planet, as rough-and-tumble Stephanie Plum, a laid-off lingerie saleswoman who discovers a surprising aptitude for bounty hunting, isn’t the biggest problem with One For The Money, but it’s a good place to start. As concessions to her blue-collar character, Heigl drops her G’s and throws in the occasional nasal vowel, but she never demonstrates the bottomless determination that’s meant to offset Stephanie’s total inexperience, nor can she make her ineptitude charming. Heigl’s comic timing is solid, and she knows her limitations well enough, but there’s a hollowness at the movie’s center, right where Heigl’s heart should be.
Stephanie’s biggest fish is the high-school lothario who broke her heart (Jason O’Mara), now a police officer wanted for murdering an informant. (There are so many holes in the plot, it’s almost unfair to single one out, but start with the fact that a cop makes bail for first-degree murder.) Tracking him down is the easy part, but without a gun, handcuffs, or much common sense, the only means she has to bring him in are her none-too-robust powers of persuasion. The manhunt takes her down the city’s mean streets, or at least the theme-park version thereof—call it Murderland—where she’s menaced by assorted (invariably non-white) scumbags and helped out by a friendly prostitute. In her nonstop voiceover, Stephanie observes, “Hookers always know things.”
Director Julie Ann Robinson works overtime to keep the mood light; even when a car bomb meant for Stephanie takes out someone else, the jokes keep flying. During a dinner with Stephanie’s colorfully ethnic family, including a squandered Debbie Reynolds, the reaction shots arrive with bludgeoning regularity, and the soundtrack’s burbling organ serves as an incessant reminder not to take anything seriously. Fortunately, there’s no danger of that.