(by Dustin Putman
With eighteen novels and counting about the wacky exploits of Macy's-lingerie-manager-turned-bond-collector Stephanie Plum, Janet Evanovich has become a best-selling author not exactly suffering from a lack of material. The first film in what Lionsgate and Lakeshore Entertainment would no doubt love to turn into a profitable ongoing series, "One for the Money" clanks with tone-deaf clunkiness, woebegone enough to turn off even fans of the book. This year's version of 2010's "The Bounty Hunter," it is more than likely that director Julie Anne Robinson (2010's "The Last Song") and writers Stacy Sherman, Karen Ray and Liz Brixius may have just put the kibosh on Plum's cinematic misadventures in one fell swoop. Article continues below
Lifelong Trenton, New Jersey native Stephanie Plum (Katherine Heigl) has been out of work for six months and her bills aren't gonna pay themselves. Fast cash is what she needs—and what she endeavors to get—by becoming a makeshift bounty hunter out to nab wanted man (and, coincidentally, ex-boyfriend) Joe Morelli (Jason O'Mara) in exchange for a $50,000 payday. Theirs is a tortured past in that she once ran over his leg, and he's not about to give himself up without a fight. As Stephanie investigates further, she gets in over her head with a long list of corrupt individuals—from informants to drug smugglers to cold-blooded murderers—who point to a conspiracy much bigger than anything Joe is guilty of.
On the page, Janet Evanovich has a chipper, sardonic way with words, making memorable each member of her ensemble of colorful characters. As adapted in "One for the Money," the light has blown out on her creations and what is left are just dime-store, caricaturized ne'er-do-wells, misfits and bad guys. Names like Ranger, Eddie Gazarra, Carmen Sanchez, Ziggy Kalezsa and Bernie Cuntz come so fast and furious that when gym owner Jimmy Alpha (John Leguizamo) tells Stephanie, "If you're trying to confuse me, you're doing a good job," the viewer will likely nod in agreement. A twisty plot is one thing, but a film has to earn our interest, and this one doesn't. Evanovich pens with a fleet understanding of pace and rhythm that director Julie Anne Robinson clearly knows little about. Slow as molasses and as vapid as the dreary figures on the screen, the film oozes lethargically from scene to scene as it wrestles with a leaden, distinctly unromantic romance and action that basically boils down to a five-second shootout. Looking for laughs? There are a total of zero. "Luckily, his car wasn't too hard to follow," Stephanie says in voiceover about keeping track of Joe. "It was pretty flashy...and yellow." If you're busting a gut yet, rest assured the writing never raises above this painfully cornball, sub-sitcom level.
Critics are often too hard on Katherine Heigl (2011's "New Year's Eve"), overlooking her talent ever since she hit the A-list and began making a stream of mostly slight romantic comedies. Her career choices have not always been on solid ground, but she brings energy to her roles and, in an underrated film like 2010's "Killers," even reminded of Lucille Ball with her genuine, screwball-ready comic spark. With all of this said, Heigl has finally hit a wall with Stephanie Plum. It's not that the actress doesn't give it her best shot, but she is too made-up and glamorous to be portraying a salt-of-the-earth type struggling to make ends meet. Heigl's Jersey accent is suspect, but her overall miscasting is a bigger offender. In parts that don't support, Jason O'Mara (2007's "Resident Evil: Extinction") is ruggedly handsome but left stranded as bond-jumping love interest Joe Morelli; Debbie Reynolds is shamefully squandered as Stephanie's daffy, turkey-shooting grandma, and Sherri Shepherd (2009's "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire") is underused as straight-talking, gold-hearted hooker Lula. Apparently, Lula is a highlight of the book series as she comes into her own in later installments. Unfortunately, Shepherd may never get that same chance to show what she's truly working with.
No wonder Lionsgate chose not to screen the finished product in advance for review. "One for the Money" is a surefire example of inept filmmaking, absolutely reeking of rote desperation. For 106 minutes, it drones away to an easy-listening jazz score by Deborah Lurie (2011's "Prom") that sounds like something one would hear in an elevator rather than a feature film. It's a fitting comment on the picture's overall lack of drive and focus, which never seems all that concerned with Stephanie's downtrodden ways or the increasingly dangerous situations she gets herself into. The characters' flippant disregard for human life by the end is bothersome, too. "Five clean shots to the heart," fellow bounty hunter Ranger (Daniel Sunjata) tells Stephanie after she's killed the incessantly talking villain. "I'm impressed." It's good that Ranger is, because precious few audience members will be. People who come to see "One for the Money" will be instantly wishing it was called "Four to Go."