Based on the first novel in Janet Evanovich’s bestselling mystery-comedy series featuring spunky bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, “One for the Money” has been in development for nearly two decades, during which Evanovich has published more than a dozen follow-up novels. With that sort of time invested and franchise potential awaiting, one would assume that someone with a degree of passion for the material would have eventually found their way to the project. The end result strongly suggests otherwise. Tedious and tonally inept, this Katherine Heigl starrer looks to be a nonstarter at the B.O.

Unfortunately, much of the blame can be laid at the feet of Heigl (who also exec produced). That this mildly outspoken star has developed such a devoted cadre of detractors is a strange phenomenon indeed, and one not without strong sexist undercurrents, but she does herself no favors by displaying nearly all her actorly shortcomings here. Shrill, unfocused and irregularly attempting a deep New Jersey accent that seems destined for lasting infamy, she plays heroine Stephanie with an almost standoffish lack of conviction.

As the film opens, Stephanie has been unemployed for several months after losing her job as a lingerie buyer, and her bank account is mired in the single digits. After watching through the window as her car is repossessed, she agrees to take a filing position with her bail bondsman cousin, only to have his secretary offer her a freelance role collecting bail jumpers instead. Her interest is piqued when she notices that former flame Joe Morelli (Jason O’Mara) is among the most wanted; he broke her heart in high school and his bounty is huge, so she agrees to bring him in.

Stephanie’s obvious unsuitability for this particular job is essentially the basis for the entire film, yet within two or three minutes of being offered the gig, she’s tailing perps and breaking into vacant buildings with no one batting an eye. This type of head-scratching flippancy will emerge again and again throughout.

In any case, missing details never derail the pic’s romantic-comedy-esque trajectory: Stephanie pursues Joe while firing off forced bouts of flirtation; an ultra-studly fellow bounty-hunter (Daniel Sunjata) teaches her some of the ropes; and her wacky family (including a forcefully schticky Debbie Reynolds) tries to set her up with the neighborhood nebbish.

Also, she’s threatened and stalked by a serial rapist (Gavin-Keith Umeh); her ineptitude as a bounty-hunter causes several innocent people to be killed; and a friendly prostitute (Sherri Shepherd) is brutally beaten. A director with a feel for black comedy might have managed to marry these wildly incompatible tones, but in the hands of Julie Anne Robinson, the entire enterprise merely leaves a sour aftertaste. As Stephanie continually charges headlong into dangerous situations with unsavory men with nary a thought for her personal safety, only to be inevitably bailed out by a passing male savior, her behavior begins to seem less quirky than clinically insane. She’s far more Timothy Treadwell than Miss Marple.

Tech values are functional, and the aesthetic is thoroughly smallscreen. Like the book, “One for the Money” is prominently set in Trenton, N.J., though it was largely lensed in Pittsburgh; this location choice does the film no great detriment, it just doesn’t really make any sense.

One for the Money

  • Production: A Lionsgate release of a Lakeshore Entertainment and Lionsgate presentation of a Lionsgate, Lakeshore Entertainment, Wendy Finerman production in association with Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and Abishag Prods. Produced by Finerman, Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg, Sidney Kimmel. Executive producers, Katherine Heigl, Nancy Heigl, Andre Lamal, Eric Reid, Bruce Toll. Co-producer, Zane Weiner. Directed by Julie Anne Robinson. Screenplay, Stacy Sherman, Karen Ray, Liz Brixius, from the novel by Janet Evanovich.
  • Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Jim Whitaker; editor, Lisa Zeno Churgin; music, Deborah Lurie; music supervisor, Eric Craig; production designer, Franco-Giacomo Carbone; set decorator, Linda Lee Sutton; costume designer, Michael Dennison; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/Datasat), Danny Michael; supervising sound editor, Michael Babcock; re-recording mixers, Babcock, Tim LeBlanc; special effects coordinator, Ray Bivins; assistant director, Cara Giallanza; casting, Deborah Aquila, Ross Meyerson, Tricia Wood, Julie Tucker. Reviewed at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live, Los Angeles, Jan. 27, 2012. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 91 MIN.
  • With: Stephanie Plum - Katherine Heigl Joe Morelli - Jason O'Mara Ranger - Daniel Sunjata Jimmy Alpha - John Leguizamo Lula - Sherri Shepherd Grandma Mazur - Debbie Reynolds With: Gavin-Keith Umeh, Patrick Fischler, Ana Reeder, Nate Mooney, Debra Monk, Ryan Michelle Bathe, Annie Parisse, Leonardo Nam, Adam Paul.