By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — This one’s for the fans. And, come to think of it, from the fans as well.
Yes, once again, Mars attacks on the movie screen. And not because moms or women are needed. This time it’s the pint-sized gumshoe who’s back.
“Veronica Mars,” a crime-solving TV series that had low ratings but the undying love of its fervent fans, starred Kristen Bell as the title character, a high school and then college student moonlighting as a private eye.
It surfaced a decade ago, ran for three seasons, and was set in the fictional Southern California seaside town of Neptune, where Mars did her sleuthing.
Veronica Mars is the movie adaptation of the mystery-drama series with Bell, who also served as a producer, reprising her role as the wisecracking, crime-solving outsider whose best friend was murdered when she was fifteen and whose dad was Neptune’s ex-sheriff.
When he was ousted, her dad opened a private-eye firm, and Veronica was issued a private investigator’s license for her eighteenth birthday.
But the film picks up nine years after the events depicted in the series’ third and last television season.
About to graduate law school, Veronica has left her hometown of Neptune -– characterized by its police corruption, the class divide, high school politics, and celebrity worship — and her private-eye pursuits far behind, as she interviews at New York City law firms.
But she returns to Neptune when she learns that her old boyfriend, Logan Echols, played once again by Jason Dohring, has been, not for the first time, accused of murder.
Director Rob Thomas, the screenwriter who created, wrote and executive produced the TV series and co-wrote the film’s screenplay with Diane Ruggiero, brings the audience up to date in the first scene by zipping through the mythology created in the TV series.
And although the film never stops playing to the fans of the TV series with familiar faces and inside references, it also attempts to stand alone as a well-paced, respectably structured whodunit thriller so that newcomers are not disenfranchised.
For the most part it succeeds, although it sometimes seems as if the writers are trying to cram a television season’s worth of narrative into a two-hour feature.
Bell has her spunky-yet-vulnerable, sensitive-but-sardonic act down pat (she’s thrilled by danger, but sensibly afraid of it as well, in her impressively lived-in performance), and the large supporting cast is made up of veterans of the series as well as newcomers, including Krysten Ritter, Ryan Hansen, Francis Capra, Enrico Colantoni, Tina Majorino, Chris Lowell, Percy Daggs III, Ken Marino, Martin Starr, Gaby Hoffman, Jerry O’Connell, and James Lee Curtis, with cameo appearances by Justin Long and James Franco, the latter portraying and parodying himself.
Initially funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign, with a legion of fans making donations, Veronica Mars goes in the books as the first film to be distributed theatrically and for home viewing simultaneously by one of Hollywood’s six major studios.
So we’ll solve the crime of 2½ stars out of 4 for the pleasantly watchable character-driven crime mystery, Veronica Mars.
Does it make its case to kick-start a movie franchise? Probably not, but maybe. Regardless, does it entertain on its own standalone merits? Not spectacularly, but yes.