"Veronica Mars," the movie, is just so Veronica Mars.
The teenage private eye from the 2004-07 TV series starring Kristen Bell has grown up. But like fans of the show, a.k.a. marshmallows, it is quickly clear that while Veronica may have left her life in Neptune, Calif., behind, she hasn't moved on.
Director Rob Thomas, creator of the prime-time show, and series executive producer Diane Ruggiero, finally do what they refused to do when "Veronica Mars" was canceled in 2007 — deliver a script that ties up a lot of loose ends and opens up a new can of worms.
Nearly everyone in the original cast is back, so it makes sense to have the film coincide with Veronica's 10-year high school reunion, because it does feel like a reunion. Or it will for fans.
I hate to keep mentioning the fans, but it's impossible not to. They — or at least 91,585 of them — basically bought and paid for the film via Kickstarter. And it is clear in every frame that the filmmakers and actors really appreciate that loyalty. It doesn't make for a particularly ambitious film, but it is a satisfying one as it moves easy, breezy over familiar terrain.
The film is also designed to be accessible to the uninitiated. The opening sequence uses a sprawling montage and pithy voice-over to fill in all the necessary blanks.
As the film opens, Veronica is living in New York, about to graduate from law school, and happily engaged to Piz (Chris Lowell), who is as sweet as ever though a shade more serious. The reunion invite sits like the elephant in the room.
Then word comes that Bonnie DeVille — pop star, old classmate and the girlfriend of Veronica's ex, Logan (Jason Dohring) — has been murdered and Logan's been arrested. Though a possible job at a prestigious New York City law firm is on the line, the undertow of Neptune is too much to resist.
The appeal of "Veronica Mars" from the beginning on TV was the character's clever mix of self-awareness, intelligence, teenage insecurities, crackling dialogue and an old-school style of sleuthing. All those qualities in a more adult form make their way to the big screen right along with Bell, who slips into character like an old pair of jeans.
Without the luxury of an entire season to spin out the mysteries, there aren't as many layers for Veronica to peel back. But there are enough to make it interesting to guess whom the murderer might be and whether Veronica and Logan will reconnect.
As the old familiars reappear one by one, you see the deep legacy the show has had. Most of the actors have very visible careers, led by Bell with a popular Showtime series, "House of Lies," and a hit movie, "Frozen."
The core Neptune clique headed by Gia (Krysten Ritter) and Luke (Sam Huntington) is as snarky, and as entitled, as ever. Former gangster "Weevil" Navarro (Francis Capra) has cleaned up his act. Bad boy Logan shows up looking not at all like a murderer, very spiffy in military whites. Det. D'Amato (Max Greenfield) slips in for a few scenes. And there are a couple of cool cameos thrown in for good measure — look for Bell's real-life husband Dax Shepard in a crowded bar and you can't miss James Franco in a clever turn as himself.
Theoretically Veronica is only back for a few days to help Logan pick the right defense attorney. But soon enough she's dissatisfied with how things are going and has picked up her camera, broken into a prime suspect's apartment — an obsessed DeVille fan played with a nice touch of insanity by Gaby Hoffmann — and enlisted her old sleuthing cohorts Mac (Tina Majorino) and Wallace (Percy Daggs III) to help.
There is a price for coming back home again and Veronica pays in big ways and small. On the lighter side, Mac and Wallace conspire to get her to the high school reunion, which is of course a complete disaster. More complicated is her dad's reaction.
Former police chief and quintessential gumshoe, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni) was the model dad for a rebellious teenager — willing to give his only daughter plenty of rope, but also unmovable on key issues. The one that has them at odds at the moment is her return to Neptune. Keith wants more for Veronica and is not happy watching her risk her future. Just like old times, the scenes between father and daughter are among the best.
Though there is a murder charge hanging over Logan's head and Veronica is in the process of possibly ruining her life, the film is a great deal of fun to watch as it plays around with old grudges, old flames and a police force — now headed by Sheriff Don Lamb (Jerry O'Connell) — as corrupt as ever.
In a sense, the film follows Veronica's story arc. There is a sense of empowerment and a new confidence in the choices being made by Thomas, but there is also so much more to say. Whether a sequel or another series is in the offing, the movie leaves the door wide open. That is just so Veronica Mars.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexuality including references, drug content, violence and some strong language
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Playing: In general releaseCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun