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Bell hits the big screen as 'Veronica Mars'

Kristen Bell, Percy Daggs III and Tina Majorino reprise their roles from the cult TV series "Veronica Mars." In the movie, Veronica Mars (Bell) returns home to solve the murder of a classmate. CREDIT: Robert Voets/Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Stephanie Merry
(c) 2014, The Washington Post.
The audience for the big screen version of "Veronica Mars" will probably fall into one of three camps: those that loved the mid-2000s television show and would enjoy the movie even if it were a remake of "Grown-Ups 2" starring Kristen Bell; those that adored the teen-noir detective show and got so amped about the film that it could never live up to their expectations; and those that have never heard of Veronica Mars but think the spunky, acerbic heroine seems pretty swell.

Full disclosure: I loved the television show. Yet I found myself curiously stuck between the first and second camps. It's good to have Veronica back, particularly at what seems like a vital time, given the depressing revelation that women accounted for a paltry 15 percent of leading roles in 2013 films. But the movie lacks some of the verve and chemistry that made the series a must-see. I guess that makes the movie more of a good-to-see.

Still, that should be enough for the people who got this story into theaters: the roughly 90,000 fans who contributed to a Kickstarter campaign. Series creator Rob Thomas turned to the crowd-funding site after unsuccessfully trying to get a "Veronica Mars" movie off the ground since the show was canceled in 2007 after just three seasons. The initial $2 million goal seemed unattainable, but then the money started rolling in, and $5.7 million later, the demand for more sleuthing became clear to Warner Bros., which green-lit the movie.

The film picks up seven years after the series ended. Former teen detective Veronica (Bell) is a lawyer now, which seems about right given her talent for quippy comebacks, and she's living in New York where she's dating Piz (Chris Lowell), the lovable guy she met during the third season, when both were attending Hearst College. But just when you start to think how wonderful it is that Veronica ended up with a nice guy instead of brawl-happy anti-hero Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), there's news that high school classmate and pop star Carrie Bishop has turned up dead. And the main suspect is Logan.

The only thing more powerful than Veronica's addiction to her ex-boyfriend is her need to solve cases, so off she goes back to Neptune, Calif. All the series regulars are there, from Veronica's best friends, Mac (Tina Majorino) and Wallace (Percy Daggs III), to her nemesis, rich kid Dick (Ryan Hansen), who has turned into the man you'd expect, snacking on drug-laced brownies and spending his days surfing. One of the most affecting parts of the show was Veronica's relationship with her dad (Enrico Colantoni) and their same loving-yet-cantankerous bond still prompts a mix of laughter and "awwww"-ing.

Writer-director Thomas has a gift for well-paced, expertly plotted stories. There's nothing predictable about the winding mystery of Carrie's death. The pithy dialogue is there too, although he leans heavily on self-conscious winking at those in the know. The problem with jokes about Kickstarter campaigns, gibes about keeping the language PG-13 and a busker singing an acoustic version of the theme song is that those moments take the audience out of the story, whereas the best movies suck us in. Luckily, the action picks up when the dialogue stalls, with startling car crashes, cat-and-mouse games and unexpected gunshots that make for a spellbinding climax.

The most distracting component of the movie may be the lackluster chemistry between Logan and Veronica. It used to be easy to understand why the two were drawn together even while they were trading hateful barbs. But now, especially with Veronica in a nice, stable relationship, it's harder to see the allure.

Is it that Bell and Dohring can't muster the same pulsating attraction? Quite possibly. But it could also be that we've all grown up, and Veronica should have, too. Sure, 90,000 fans of the show wanted to see their favorite whip-smart detective do her thing at the theater, but that doesn't mean we want to see her fall into all the same old patterns.

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2 1/2 stars

Veronica Mars

(107 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexuality including references, drug content, violence and some strong language.

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