One For The Money operates under the notion that its main character is likeable. Unfortunately, she’s not. She’s the type of impulsive woman that runs over ex-lovers with her car and runs over the audience’s good will with her bumbling and selfish approach to life. As the subject of nearly twenty best-selling Janet Evanovich novels, Stephanie Plum obviously has many positive qualities that make her extremely readable, but this adaptation of One For The Money doesn’t take any time to show us those redeeming characteristics. The first time we meet her, the car she can’t afford is being repossessed, she's sassing her well-intentioned parents and making an absolute mess of her life. The events that follow do very little to change that first impression; so, instead of rooting for an assertive heroine trying to learn the ropes of a new profession, we’re annoyed at a pushy woman who should have gotten a job doing anything else.
On the surface, we’re presented with the rather simple story of a woman (Katherine Heigl) who, thanks to money problems, must track down a former lover named Joe Morelli (Jason O’Mara) in order to make fifty thousand dollars. It should be the sort of thing that draws out the quirkiness of its characters, but the specifics of how that apprehension happens are embroiled in an incredibly complicated and long-winded mystery. There’s a hooker (Sherri Shepherd), a boxer (Gavin-Keith Umeh), another bounty hunter (Daniel Sunjata), a handler (John Leguizamo), some cops, some informants and a gun-toting grandmother (Debbie Reynolds). At just over an hour and forty-five minutes, One For The Money can’t accommodate all of those characters and let its heroine’s personality slowly come out. Ultimately, it chooses its plot over character development, which would still be fine if it had an adequate mystery.
It doesn’t--the only real mystery is how Stephanie Plum doesn’t wind up dead. Her bounty hunting skills are embarrassing, she routinely shows up places without a plan, she has no idea what she’s looking for, and her gun gets stolen like clockwork. Because we’re exclusively given her perspective, there’s no way to figure anything out ourselves either. We’re trapped looking at the case through her eyes, making amateur audience sleuthing impossible. Not that Sherlock Holmes could have figured this one out-- new henchmen, suspects and witnesses show up without warning, characters act without motivations, and there’s very little logic to the whole thing. All the dots are connected at the end in one of those villain-pours-his-heart-out moments, but the right answer is so out of left field there’s no point in even mentally rehashing to discern if clues were missed.
And it's too bad, because Katherine Heigl is actually good at playing the Stephanie Plum role. In fact, the whole cast is pretty spot on. Sherri Shepherd is entertaining as a prostitute who demands snacks in exchange for information, and there’s a nice little chemistry between Heigl and both O’Mara and Umeh. None of that matters though, because the material they’re given is so weak. Some of the lines of dialogue are brutal, and Stephanie’s trademark Jersey sass doesn’t really translate to the present. We live in a world where Snooki exists. As a woman who once sold lingerie in Newark, our main character should banter with lines a bit more aggressive than “We’re ancient history, like the pyramids, baby”.
One For The Money is a mess. It’s corny, bizarrely complicated and somehow noticeably worse than the Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston disaster The Bounty Hunter. Its main character has, as far as I can tell, no above-average personality traits and its mystery flat out sucks. Read the book, or better yet, watch Midnight Run.