When a studio 1)dumps a movie based on an expensively acquired series of detective novels clearly intended to be a franchise in the January dead zone, 2)based on the Saturday reviews apparently refuses to screen it for critics, and 3)it stars Katherine Heigl, winner of the 2011 Nic Cage Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Indiscriminate Script Approval, the review pretty much writes itself. Nonetheless, to his credit A.O. Scott put in more effort than the filmmakers:
“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.
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.