Movie review: ‘Veronica Mars’ appeals to fans and newcomers
Review • Return of TV detective has wit and warmth.
Published: March 14, 2014 01:44PM
Updated: March 14, 2014 12:57PM
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This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Kristen Bell in a scene from "Veronica Mars." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Robert Voets)

In the first moments of the “Veronica Mars” movie, director Rob Thomas tries to split the difference between pleasing the rabid fans of the “Veronica Mars” TV show and assuring newcomers that things won’t get too insider-y.

Hence an intro in which Veronica (Kristen Bell) tells how she got from being a teenage private eye in the seaside town of Neptune, Calif., to a law-school graduate living in New York who has chucked her dangerous P.I. days behind her.

That hard-edged adrenaline-addicted investigator is “the old me,” Veronica says. “The new me? Some people say I’m a marshmallow.” (This, for the uninitiated, is a shout-out to the old show’s fans, called “marshmallows” — particularly the 90,000-plus who donated to a Kickstarter campaign to make the movie.)

So, yes, this “Veronica Mars” is mostly for the “marshmallows,” a reunion that brings back the show’s favorite characters in a tartly written murder mystery. Newbies will enjoy it, though they may have to nudge their friends for explanations of a few details (which, come to think of it, is what I do after every post-credits scene in a Marvel Comics movie).

Veronica seems to have a happy life, interviewing with a high-level law firm (headed by Jamie Lee Curtis) and happily dating Stosh “Piz” Piznarski (Chris Lowell, back from season 3). Then comes news from Neptune that famous pop singer Bonnie deVille — once Veronica’s high-school classmate Carrie Bishop — was electrocuted in a bathtub. What’s more, the singer’s ex-boyfriend is the prime suspect, and he’s also Veronica’s former flame, hot-headed Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring).

So Veronica goes back to Neptune for a surprise visit to her ex-lawman father (Enrico Colantoni) and to see her old friends Wallace (Percy Daggs III), Mac (Tina Majorino) and Weevil (Francis Capra). Oh, and to figure out who killed Bonnie/Carrie, while also contemplating which life suits her better: New York with Piz, or Neptune with Logan.

Thomas, co-writing with series staff writer Diane Ruggiero, delivers plenty of verbal sparring opportunities for Veronica — whether confronting the obnoxious new sheriff (Jerry O’Connell), being dragged to her 10-year high-school reunion or meeting up with James Franco (in a deft self-parodying cameo). Veronica, of course, gets the best one-liners, such as her response when Dad reminds her that trespassing is a felony: “C’mon, Dad, I knew my felonies before I knew my state capitals.”

Bell is perfect as Veronica, peppering the tiny P.I.’s spunky attitude with an undercurrent of sadder-but-wiser experience. She’s surrounded by the show’s familiar faces, including Krysten Ritter as a stuck-up ex-classmate and Ken Marino as a sleazebag detective. The supporting standout, though, is new to the “Mars” universe: Gaby Hoffmann, utterly captivating as Ruby Jetson, a Bonnie DeVille-obsessed fan.

Thomas doesn’t exactly expand the cinematic landscape of Neptune. With the $6 million budget contributed by those Kickstarter donors, “Veronica Mars” the movie looks like a slightly glossier TV episode. But the wit and warmth of Bell’s girl detective come through, even for a first-time watcher.

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‘Veronica Mars’

Kristen Bell’s girl detective is back, grown up and at the center of a murder mystery and a love triangle.

Where • Layton Hills 9, Layton; also video-on-demand.

When • Opens today.

Rating • PG-13 for sexuality including references, drug content, violence and some strong language.

Running time • 107 minutes.