Dir: Julie Anne Robinson. US. 2012. 91mins


A deeply vapid movie which puts no sincere care or thought into how its slapdash story choices interact with the real world, One For the Money fancies itself a spunky action comedy with a spitfire heroine and a will-they-or-won’t-they romance at its core. Instead, it’s inane (and unfunny to boot) wish fulfillment of the most dreadful variety — an utterly phony tale of empowerment whose leading lady is repeatedly rescued and enabled by men. Starring Katherine Heigl, this mishmash defies logic as an adaptation of author Janet Evanovich’s first in a series of bestselling novels, so across the board tone-deaf is it.

One For the Money feels aimless, and wholly without purpose.

Heigl’s critically panned pairing with Ashton Kutcher, Killers, managed to shake $98 million worldwide out of moviegoers’ wallets and purses in 2010, while the comedy Life As We Know It split its $105 million gross nearly evenly between domestic and international audiences. With awards season players still a Stateside box office factor, however, and toxic word-of-mouth looking to bring a steep decline beyond opening weekend, One For the Money could easily top out at only half of those films’ hauls.

Set in Trenton, New Jersey, the film posits Heigl as a hapless blue collar singleton, Stephanie Plum, who’s been laid off from her job as a department store lingerie section manager, and has but a few remaining dollars to her name. Turning to her bail bondsman cousin for a job, she gets work as a bounty hunter, despite no previous experience, and takes the big-payday case of Joe Morelli (Jason O’Hara), a cop accused of murder and the guy to whom she just happened to lose her virginity when she was seventeen.

As her busybody mom (Debra Monk) tries to set her up with an oafish ex-classmate whose surname is a sound-alike for an epithet, Stephanie finds a mentor in Ranger (Daniel Sunjata), a bounty hunter who in future tomes becomes a possible love interest. Picking up tricks of the trade from him, she tries to hound Joe into coming in with her, but then ends up awkwardly investigating some of the many loose ends in his case.

The story paradoxically wallows in detail surrounding its supporting characters, while also doing nothing to really flesh them out. Sporadic voiceover from Stephanie, too, does nothing to further entangle the insipid plot, which centers around Joe’s investigation of a serial rapist (Gavin-Keith Umeh) who is also a well regarded boxer being trained by Jimmy Alpha (John Leguizamo). Instead, it’s merely used to comment upon the obvious (a car the audiences sees is then described as “flashy and yellow”), and shoehorn in a few family jokes.

One For the Money feels aimless, and wholly without purpose — which might still be okay if any of its banter or repartee were strong, which it isn’t. Perhaps most damningly though, the movie asks viewers to invest emotionally in the safety of a couple potential criminal eyewitnesses, but then shrugs off the sudden and violent death of a bounty hunter competitor.

In correlative clumsy fashion, television director Julie Anne Robinson presides over this mess. The production design is uninspired and cheap-looking, and there’s a decided lack of snap or pizzazz to the visual telling of the story, which might momentarily enliven things in fits and starts.

Notably, One For the Money robustly embodies one of the main problems inherent in most of Heigl’s big screen starring efforts. She is well experienced, and certainly not unskilled with timing or a snappy line reading, but reliably knows only two settings — helpless or shrill. Lacking both the sort hard edge to make Stephanie believable as a bounty hunter (apparently not the biggest focus of the books), or a more overt femininity to bring a comedic contrast to the forefront, Heigl here merely goes through the paces, intermittently exercising an implausible New Jersey accent.

Supporting performances are for the most part equally uninspired or memorable, save Debbie Reynolds’ small, droll turn as Stephanie’s grandmother.

Production companies: Lakeshore Entertainment, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, Wendy Finerman Productions, Abishag Productions

Domestic distribution: Lionsgate

Producers: Sidney Kimmel, Wendy Finerman, Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg

Executive producers: Katherine Heigl, Andre Lamal, Eric Reid

Co-producer: Zane Weiner

Screenplay: Stacy Sherman & Karen Ray and Liz Brixius, based on the novel by Janet Evanovich

Cinematography: Jim Whitaker

Editor: Lisa Zeno Churgin

Production designer: Franco-Giacomo Carbone

Music: Deborah Lurie

Website: www.Facebook.com/OneForTheMoneyMovie

Main cast: Katherine Heigl, Jason O’Mara, Daniel Sunjata, John Leguizamo, Sherri Shepherd, Debra Monk, Debbie Reynolds, Gavin-Keith Umeh, Adam Paul, Ana Reeder, Patrick Fischler, Annie Parisse, Leonardo Nam, Fisher Stevens