March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Katherine Heigl takes a shot at playing Stephanie Plum in a movie that's dead on arrival


In 1991, Kathleen Turner attempted to turn Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski thrillers into a franchise; unfortunately, the dream died the minute the dismal debut, “V.I. Warshawski,” began to unspool for audiences. A similarly sorry fate awaits Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, the bounty hunter who has strutted through 17 novels, but probably won’t make it to her second movie, once fans snooze through the slapdash “One for the Money.”

If it seems like “Money” has taken a while to get to theaters, it’s because it has. It was shot two years ago and slated for release last summer, before it was reportedly shot down by test-screening audiences. Lionsgate hastily hurled the film into January, a month traditionally reserved for movies gone wrong, Oscar contenders going nationwide and rousing gospel musicals starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton.

There’s plenty of noise in “One for the Money,” although it’s hardly joyous. Much of it comes from Katherine Heigl — once again demonstrating she has the perpetually wide eyes and narrow emotional range of a Kewpie doll — who is stunningly miscast as Plum, a Joisey Goyrl from Trenton who is long of leg, short on luck and, thanks to Heigl’s hideous stab at a Garden State accent, sheer murder to listen to. A confident prediction: Those unfortunate enough to sit through “Money” will hear Heigl squawking, “Why ya messin’ wid mah Tastykakes, huh?” in their nightmares.

“Trenton Makes — The World Takes” proclaims the famous motto immortalized on the side of the bridge over the Delaware River: Stephanie Plum, at least in this incarnation, ought to be stamped “return to sender.”

After being fired, former Macy’s lingerie department manager Plum plunges into a new career as a skip tracer for the bails bonds office run by her cousin Vinnie (naturally). What luck that her first target is Joe Morelli (Jason O’Mara), a cop accused of shooting a man while he was off-duty, and — drum roll, please — the lowdown dog who once deflowered a teenage Plum on the floor of the Tasty Pastry Bakery and then neglected to call her. The flirtatious feuding between Plum and Morelli is supposed to be endearing, but it’s actually reminiscent of the bland banter between Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte in the ill-fated “I Love Trouble”: Like Roberts and Nolte, Heigl and O’Mara seem to generate the opposite of chemistry.

Toss in a senior citizen who proudly parades around in the buff (“Fresh air is good for the boys!”), yet another one of those spaced-out Asian guys who likes to scream and jump around a lot and a pair of wisecracking hookers that look like refugees from Ye Olde Disco and you’ve got a package well worth handing over to the garbage man. Oh yeah, Debbie Reynolds, decked out in rhinestone-studded sunglasses and loud scarves, shows up as Plum’s allegedly lovable rascal of a grandmother; Reynolds’ performance, with its shouted lines and overblown gestures, seems to have been designed for the nearsighted and hearing-impaired.

Director Julie Ann Robinson (who once oversaw episodes of Heigl’s former TV series, “Grey’s Anatomy”) hasn’t the slightest clue how to handle this material, which very badly wants to walk the line between street-smart comedy and suspense. “Money” plods along from underdeveloped scene to underdeveloped scene, building no tension and, frequently, not even holding the attention. Anyone who dozes off during Heigl’s histrionics will be pleased to know that “Money” includes the time-honored bad-thriller staple of the villain who eagerly recaps and explains the entire plot while holding the good guys at gunpoint. So nap away: Heaven knows your dreams will almost certainly be more entertaining than anything on the screen.