“One for the Money,” the latest Katherine Heigl vehicle to park itself in the multiplexes, is also the title of a best-selling novel by Janet Evanovich. It is worth stating this fact at the outset to avoid the mistaken but entirely plausible assumption that the phrase somehow made its way onto the lobby posters from the subject line of an e-mail from Ms. Heigl’s agent.
There are now 18 volumes in Ms. Evanovich’s series about Stephanie Plum, the Trenton bounty hunter played by Ms. Heigl with brown hair and an accent that might suggest New Jersey to someone who once overheard a conversation about an episode of “The Sopranos.” “One for the Money,” in other words, is an attempt to inaugurate a new movie franchise, something that might appeal to women and mystery fans. This is a perfectly sound ambition, but the movie, directed by Julie Anne Robinson from a script by Stacy Sherman, Karen Ray and Liz Brixius, is so weary and uninspired that it feels more like an exhausted end than an energetic beginning.
Stephanie is, on paper, an appealing character. Divorced, recently unemployed (from a job selling lingerie at Macy’s) and generally down on her luck, she is nonetheless plucky and resilient. Those are qualities that Ms. Heigl does her best to approximate, arriving somewhere around chipper and impatient.
The movie itself never makes it quite that far. Stephanie takes a job working for her cousin’s bail bond company and leaps at the chance to track down Joe Morelli (Jason O’Mara), a cop gone bad — though he may be innocent — and also a man who long ago did Stephanie wrong. There is still something of a spark between them, as well as between Stephanie and Ranger (Daniel Sunjata), a hunky fellow who serves as her bounty-hunting mentor.
A caper unfolds, clumsily and without much conviction, bringing Stephanie into contact with a cheerful prostitute (Sherri Shepherd), a nasty kickboxer (Gavin-Keith Umeh) and his trainer (John Leguizamo), and various others. There is action of a sort — a car blows up, shots are fired — and what might pass for witty, sexy banter to someone who once overheard a conversation about an episode of “Moonlighting.”
Speaking of television, the one mildly interesting thing about “One for the Money” — apart from Debbie Reynolds’s scene-stealing shtick as Stephanie’s grandmother — is that it offers a data point for those studying the cultural decline of cinema. I don’t mean this in any grandiose or melodramatic way. Not long ago it would have been possible to convey the bland, lazy, pedestrian qualities of this picture — its lackadaisical pacing, by-the-numbers performances, irritating music and drab visual texture — by likening it to a made-for-TV movie or an episode of a series on basic cable. But nowadays that would be praise, and movies like this must set their own standard for mediocrity.
“One for the Money” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Trenton looks great.
One for the Money
Opened on Friday nationwide.
Directed by Julie Anne Robinson; written by Stacy Sherman, Karen Ray and Liz Brixius, based on the novel by Janet Evanovich; director of photography, James Whitaker; edited by Lisa Zeno Churgin; music by Deborah Lurie; production design by Franco-Giacomo Carbone; costumes by Michael Dennison; produced by Sidney Kimmel, Wendy Finerman, Tom Rosenberg and Gary Lucchesi; released by Lionsgate. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes.