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‘Veronica Mars’: Not quite ready for the big screen

The likable Kristen Bell returns as former teen private eye pulled back Neptune Calif. “VeronicMars.” | Warner Bros.

The likable Kristen Bell returns as the former teen private eye, pulled back to Neptune, Calif., in “Veronica Mars.” | Warner Bros.

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Veronica Kristen Bell

Logan Jason Dohring

Piz Chris Lowell

Dick Ryan Hansen

Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Rob Thomas and written by Thomas and Diane Ruggiero. Running time: 108 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sexuality including references, drug content, violence and some strong language). Opens Friday in theaters and on demand.

Updated: April 15, 2014 6:05AM

Some 91,585 fans loved the “Veronica Mars” TV series so much, they contributed a total of $5.7 million to the Kickstarter campaign to fund a “Veronica Mars” movie.

I was not one of the so-called “Marshmallows” pledging financial allegiance to the dream of a big-screen version of “Veronica,” because I’ve never seen an episode of the show about a teenage girl detective, and in fact I didn’t know hardcore fans were called “Marshmallows” until about seven minutes ago.

Given that info, some fans of the UPN/CW series that ran from 2004-2007 might howl, “Disqualification, Roeper! How can you review the movie if you’re never seen the TV show?”

Well. Often I have read the book or seen the TV show upon which a movie is based. Much more often, I haven’t read the book (or the graphic novel, or the comic book), and many times I’m not all that familiar with the TV show or video game that serves as source material for a film, because we have just the 24 hours to each day.

The film must stand on its own. My assignment is to tell you if this movie is worth your time and money, whether you opt to watch the “Veronica Mars” movie on one of 270 screens nationwide, or via same-day video on demand.

As a movie, “Veronica Mars” looks and feels, well, like a glorified TV movie, with just decent production values, mostly unexceptional performances and ridiculous plot developments no more innovative than you’d see on a dozen network TV detective shows.

In a smart move intended to bring the newbies up to speed, creator-director Rob Thomas has star Kristen Bell narrating an opening sequence explaining how the high school student Veronica Mars became a private eye (under the mentorship of her sheriff-turned-private-detective father) in the town of Neptune, Calif., after Veronica’s best friend was murdered.

Flash forward to the present day. Veronica is living in New York City, on the verge of taking a job with a prestigious law firm and in a healthy relationship with Piz (Chris Lowell). She’s put the crazy past behind her.

But just when Veronica thinks she’s out, Neptune pulls her back in. She wasn’t planning on returning for her 10-year high school reunion, but when a former classmate turned pop star named Bonnie DeVille (Andrea Estella) is found electrocuted in a bathtub and Veronica’s former flame Logan (Jason Dohring) is named as the prime suspect, it’s time for Veronica to come home and take out the old sleuthing devices.

One of the myriad odd things about this movie is the nearly universal, emotion-free manner in which most of the characters react to the literally shocking death of Bonnie DeVille. Granted, Logan had become (in his own words) more of a sponsor than a boyfriend to the troubled Bonnie, but he doesn’t seem the least bit ruffled by her death — or the fact he’s facing, you know, something like life in prison if he’s found guilty of her murder.

Then again, this guy actually shows up in his all-white Navy uniform to greet Veronica at the airport, and they’re almost instantly bantering and flirting and reconnecting with former high school classmates, frenemies and archrivals. We’re told Logan was quite the hothead back in the day and there’s some present-day viral video footage of him losing his temper, but as played by Dohring, this guy is more of a drip than a threat.

Kristen Bell brings her trademark sass and spunk to the role of Veronica Mars. We like her. She seems real, even when the proceedings around grow increasingly cartoonish and just plain weird. Veronica’s smart, she’s tough, she’s fiercely loyal to her father (Enrico Colantoni, in the most grounded performance in the film), she’s vulnerable, she’s self-deprecating — and she’s not without her flaws, especially in the romantic department.

But this story is all over the place. There are two murder investigations, a number of irrelevant subplots featuring characters from the original TV show, a surreal detour featuring a cameo by an Oscar-nominated actor playing himself, some of the most blatant product placements ever (“A Budweiser for you, a Bud Light for you”) and Harvey Levin popping up on TV sets to comment on the case on “TMZ.” And did I mention Jerry O’Connell as an idiotic and corrupt sheriff?

My guess is “Veronica Mars” fans will find comfort and a good measure of closure in this update — and they’d probably kick in another $6 mil if Thomas and Bell wanted to add another chapter to the saga.

But I still won’t be calling myself a “Marshmallow” if that happens.


Twitter: @richardroeper

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