[Screen It]


(2014) (Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring) (PG-13)

Read Our Full Content Movie Review for Parents

Dramedy: A young woman returns to her hometown to help clear her ex-boyfriend of accusations that he killed his pop star girlfriend.
It's been around a decade since Veronica Mars (KRISTEN BELL) graduated from high school in the coastal town of Neptune, California. Like her ousted sheriff turned private detective dad, Keith (ENRICO COLANTONI), Veronica got wrapped up in solving local crimes as an amateur sleuth while in school. But she's left that all behind for life in New York City where she lives with her boyfriend, Piz (CHRIS LOWELL), and appears will soon be landing a new job at a prestigious law firm.

Yet, when she hears that her former boyfriend turned Navy man, Logan Echolls (JASON DOHRING), is the chief suspect in his pop star girlfriend's recent murder, Veronica returns to Neptune to help him choose a defense lawyer. There, she witnesses even further abuse of power in the local police department by the hands of Sheriff Don Lamb (JERRY O'CONNELL) and Deputy Sacks (BRANDON HILLOCK), but is happy to reconnect with her best friends from school, Mac (TINA MAJORINO) and Wallace (PERCY DAGGS III).

When she ends up staying longer than expected, they drag her to their tenth high school reunion where she sees that some people have changed, such as former gang member Weevil (FRANCIS CAPRA), while others have remained the same and are as petty as before. Among them are possible suspects Gia (KRYSTEN RITTER), Cobb (MARTIN STARR) and Dick (RYAN HANSEN) -- especially since they were all connected to the disappearance and presumed death of another classmate years ago, while the pop star's chief fan and occasional doppelganger, Ruby (GABY HOFFMANN), is obviously also on the list. The longer Veronica stays in Neptune, the more she ends up invested in figuring out the mystery, all while hoping to clear Logan's name.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
In the opening line of the Hollywood memoir "Adventures in the Screen Trade," screenwriter William Goldman states "Nobody knows anything." While that was obviously intended as a short but experience-based generalization of the egos, bold claims and failures of those in Tinseltown in terms of making movies, it obviously can also be applied to the TV industry.

Who knew that there'd be a 24-hour channel about just the weather, or that scripted shows would start to take a back seat to so-called reality programming? And who outside of a small but rabid fan base could ever have predicted there'd be a "Veronica Mars" movie spun-off from the short-lived TV series? For those not familiar with that or its title character, Kristen Bell played the teenage high school sleuth in the show that debuted back in 2004 on the now defunct UPN network and ran for three years (the last on the CW).

Despite having a loyal following and solid reviews from many TV critics, the series was a perpetual bottom dweller of the Nielsen ratings and got canned in 2007. Unlike "Star Trek" that met a similar fate forty years earlier but received a major studio resurrection following the success of "Star Wars," "Mars" took a decidedly different route to hit the big screen.

Fueled by a Kickstarter campaign, the show's most loyal followers ponied up a reported $5.7 million to fund the production, with Bell and company reprising their characters and show creator Rob Thomas taking his place in the director's chair. The question that remains is whether fans of the series will be happy and if newcomers to the fold (which includes yours truly) will be able to follow along or feel like they're on the outside looking in.

For those thinking a non-fan shouldn't be reviewing the movie (just like they say a critic shouldn't comment on a movie adaptation of a book), I argue that I somehow managed to watch "Gravity" without ever being a NASA astronaut, was horrified by the atrocities in "12 Years a Slave" despite being born almost a century after the end of the Civil War, and have never known an ice princess like the one in "Frozen" (okay, the latter isn't entirely true).

Nonetheless, the true litmus test of any film, regardless of its origin, is whether it's able to stand on its own. While I'm sure I missed some inside jokes and references, and didn't know who certain minor characters were when they briefly showed up (and received enthusiastic welcome-backs from the ardent fans at our preview screening), for the most part it wasn't remotely difficult to follow the story or get into the rhythms of the characters.

Thomas and co-screenwriter Diane Ruggiero start off with a quick recap of the series where Bell's title character summarizes who she and the rest of the major players were back in their high school days in the fictional, soap opera-esque town of Neptune, California. Now nine years later, Veronica is living in New York City with her current boyfriend (Chris Lowell) and about to land a nice gig at a law firm when news breaks that her former, hot-tempered boyfriend (Jason Dohring) is the suspect in the bathtub electrocution death of his pop star girlfriend.

Despite having given up her Nancy Drew alter ego ways due to the troubles it created for her and others in years past, she returns home to stay with her former ousted sheriff turned private eye dad (Enrico Colantoni) while helping her old b.f. find a good lawyer. The trip is supposed to be short, but once discrepancies start to pop up, she can't help herself but be drawn back into the game, even if that means having to interact with those from her not particularly cheery high school past.

After that set-up, the plot follows a standard whodunit formula, with an array of suspects and clues that need to be examined. Oddly enough, especially considering that Harvey Levin and Charles Latibeaudiere from the real TMZ show are twice shown talking about the murder case, the paparazzi never show up to hound the murder suspect or comment on the dead pop star's biggest fan and resident doppelganger (Gaby Hoffmann) who seems to be -- in Veronica's mind -- a likely suspect.

Despite that odd omission of a "news" topic that's rife for satire or at least commentary, the rest of the film is, for the most part, smartly written, with the sort of snarky dialogue that teens (and others) love (especially as related to high school life) but rarely actually speak in reality. And while the pic never quite transcends the feeling that it's an elongated TV movie rather than a usual Hollywood studio production for the big screen, it's a decent offering for its target audience, be that the rabid fans who brought it to fruition or those new to the scene. "Veronica Mars" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed March 12, 2014 / Posted March 14, 2014

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