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Family Movie Review: One for the Money (PG-13)

A few months later, we get similarly bad casting with “One for the Money,” what should be a spunky, silly crime caper based on the first book in Janet Evanovich’s series about meek girl-turned-bail bondsman Stephanie Plum. As an actress, Katherine Heigl was promising once, way back as a conflicted alien in the teen drama “Roswell,” and then in the nighttime soap “Grey’s Anatomy,” and then in Judd Apatow’s breakthrough comedy “Knocked Up.” And then she bad-talked the crew of “Grey’s Anatomy” and those who created her character in “Knocked Up” and made a string of failed romantic comedies: 2009’s “The Ugly Truth,” 2010’s “Killers,” and “Life As We Know It.”

And now it’s 2012 and Heigl’s stuck in this mess of a movie, surrounded by actors who are either overworking or not filling out their roles, and she seems like she’s sleepwalking through it herself. If this is how Heigl thought she could get her career back, she thought wrong. (Indicative of its badness is that “One for the Money” was not screened for critics before it opened.)

“One for the Money” begins with a thoroughly bad day for Stephanie Plum (Heigl). The Trenton, NJ, native gets fired from her job selling lingerie at Macy’s, meaning her fancy sportscar gets repossessed when she can’t pay the bills. Her family worries about how they’re going to survive without her chipping in to help, and her grandmother (Debbie Reynolds)—maybe senile, or maybe just prone to inappropriate comments?—wonders why more people wouldn’t buy thongs from her. So silly, that Plum grandma!

Frustrated with her lack of cash, Stephanie decides to join a relative’s bail bond business, tracking down people who skip out on their day in court and effectively cost the bondsman his or her collateral. She’s too mousy for the job at first, especially when she realizes the biggest prize available is for finding alleged killer—and former cop—Joe Morelli (Jason O’Mara), who also happens to be Stephanie’s old high school fling. She’s determined to get him and get the money, but as memories of their relationship start flooding back, and she starts asking questions about the crime Morelli supposedly committed, Stephanie realizes the pieces don’t all add up.

All the while, she’s also growing more confident—more styled hair, skimpier and tighter clothes—even as she’s first filling Morelli’s car with a naked older man and then getting it blown up. As she learns on the job, thanks to interactions with a commando-like bail bondsman nicknamed Ranger (Daniel Sunjata), for whom shooting lessons are a specialty, and side characters like prostitute Lula (Sherri Shepherd) and gym owner Jimmy Alpha (John Leguizamo), she also starts to trust her instincts. What if Morelli is innocent? And what if, strangely enough, they actually have a future together?

Excuse me while I say ugh. It’s frustrating enough that Heigl—as a producer of the film—decided to go with mostly unrecognizable actors so that Heigl herself can have all the glory. But if you’re going to structure your film that way, at least do a good acting job. Instead, Heigl’s New Jersey accent is profoundly bonkers. Her only character development is shown through more suggestive clothing and better ease with a gun. And the other actors veer so drastically in quality that the film can’t develop some kind of consistent tone. There’s Shepherd, so over the top in her caricature of a talkative lady of the night, and Leguizamo, whose well-documented talent playing complex characters like Shakespeare’s Tybalt means his talent is wasted here.

Did director Julie Anne Robinson, whose previous work was 2010’s “The Last Song” with former Disney darling Miley Cyrus and real-life boyfriend Liam Hemsworth, have a vision for “One for the Money”? Maybe. But what ended up onscreen is neither an enjoyable adaptation of Plum’s book, nor a return-to-form vehicle for Heigl. It’s just one big crash and burn.

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