It would have been easy for director/writer Rob Thomas to coast through the big-screen version of his TV series "Veronica Mars." The film only got made because of a grassroots campaign to raise money by a loyal legion of "Mars" fans.
That meant all Thomas had to do to assure a hit was sprinkle the film with enough original characters, keep Mars (Kristen Bell) as sharp tongued as when she was solving crimes on UPN and the CW almost a decade ago and come up with a crime worth solving.
Thomas does all that, but he also creates a film that will draw in those who never saw the series. For the newbies, he provides the right amount of exposition to explain who all of the characters are — without making the production feel slow to all of the loyal fans. Because he finds that balance, "Veronica Mars" is both a loving gift for those who adore the series and a fun and entertaining murder mystery for those who don't know Veronica Mars from Bruno Mars.
The film picks up nine years after Mars left Neptune. She's on the fast track to a job with a prestigious New York law firm. That's when she is called home to help her old high school friend, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), who is the prime suspect in the murder of his pop star girlfriend.
Before you can say Jessica Fletcher, Mars has slipped back into her sleuthing ways while reconnecting with old friends (Percy Daggs III, Tina Majorino) and hanging out with her private investigator father (Enrico Colantoni). A class reunion proves a clever way to provide updates on familiar faces in an organic way.
As he did on the TV series, Thomas cleverly weaves the mystery with the personal life of Mars. It works because Bell jumps right back into playing the character with just the right amount of smarts, sassiness and sensitivity. She handles the quick, snippy dialogue written by Thomas with ease.
In keeping with the design of the TV show, Thomas doesn't do anything fancy with the way the film's shot and his use of music does get slightly annoying at times. But the blend of a fun story and the trip down memory lane makes up for the movie's few blemishes.
Author Thomas Wolfe professed you can't go home again. "Veronica Mars" proves him wrong. This trip back to her old mystery-solving stomping ground is pleasantly entertaining for the uniformed and a perfect thank you to all of the loyal fans.
"Veronica Mars," rated PG-13 for adult situations. Stars Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Enrico Colantoni. Directed by Rob Thomas. Running time: 108 minutes. Grade: B.
Where to see the movie
"Veronica Mars" opens nationally in theaters Friday, but it is not showing at theaters in the Fresno region. Warner Bros. is releasing the movie on Video On-Demand (VOD) Friday, making it available from digital retailers and participating cable and satellite providers.