In One for the Money, Katherine Heigl trades her usual straight blonde tresses for free-flowing brunette ringlets — a Julia Roberts ‘do — and the new hair looks good on her. It softens her features and brings out her brown-eyed-girl sparkle. Her personality gets a dye job, too. As Stephanie Plum, a screwup from Trenton who’s been wandering in the wilderness ever since she was axed from the lingerie department at Macy’s (cue the patronizing service-economy chuckle), Heigl serves up a light version of ”Guidette” mannerisms, and though she doesn’t overplay them, they don’t look comfortable on her either. She does working-class sexy slovenliness in an overly thought-out way.
Desperate for cash, Stephanie blackmails her cousin, a bail bondsman named Vinnie (Patrick Fischler), into giving her a job as a bounty hunter. Her assignment is to bring in a rogue cop, Joe Morelli, accused of murder (he’s played by Jason O’Mara, who’s like a more chiseled Aidan Quinn). That Joe happens to be the guy who took Stephanie’s virginity on the floor of a bakery back when they were still in high school — and then never called her again! — only fuels her motivation. Each time she chases Joe down and fails, once more, to take him in, the old sparks are supposed to fly, but One for the Money isn’t really a romantic comedy. Based on the first of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels, which came out in 1994, it’s more like a thriller pretending to be comedy (a thromedy?). Imagine an Elmore Leonard movie scripted by a bad Nora Ephron imitator, and you’ll have an idea of how dead-in-the-Jersey-water it is.
The convoluted plot has Stephanie wandering from one lead and suspect to the next, each one duller than the last. There are too many cliché settings (a boxing gym, an Italian pork store), too many lines like ”You’re out of your league!” and ”How’s that workin’ for ya?,” too many scenes with Debbie Reynolds as Stephanie’s what will she say next? feisty grandma, and never enough at stake. At one point, after Joe has subdued Stephanie by handcuffing her to the shower rod, she tells us, in voice-over, ”I confess, I fantasized about being handcuffed and naked in front of Joe Morelli once. Maybe twice,” and we’re supposed to think that that maybe twice is just the funniest kinky flourish. One for the Money is that kind of movie — it will have you groaning between yawns. D