Jason Dohring and Kristin Bell star in VERONICA MARS, directed by Rob Thomas for Warner Bros.

Veronica Mars (2014, Rob Thomas)

Rob Thomas loves the "Veronica Mars" television show fans. He must. He pretty much wastes the first act of the feature film (also titled Veronica Mars) thanking them for funding the film's production through Kickstarter. It's worse for star Kristen Bell than the film–both recover, but the film first–as the script's moving her around like a marionette. She doesn't get to do anything for way too long. Instead, she's an entirely passive, narrating protagonist.

Luckily, a lot of Thomas's fan service is amusing. So it allows Mars to coast–something Thomas's direction unfortunately can't do (he's mediocre until the second half)–and the acting is mostly strong. Even when the characters are just there to take up running time.

But coasting isn't enough; Thomas seems to know it because he brings erstwhile leading man (and don in distress) Jason Dohring. The script gives Dohring all the drama and all the layers it doesn't give Bell. Dohring excels. It's in his scenes where Bell starts getting better.

And then, all of a sudden, Mars sheds the dead leaves and starts growing organically. The film still calls back to elements from the show, but Thomas and co-writer Diane Ruggiero give Bell a role to act. They finally let her engage with the story instead of just visiting old friends. Problem solved.

Fine supporting turns from Enrico Colantoni, Ryan Hanson and Gaby Hoffmann. Tina Majorino looks completely lost.

Mars succeeds–almost everything with Bell opposite Dohring or Colantoni is spectacular stuff. It's just rough going at the start.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Thomas; screenplay by Thomas and Diane Ruggiero, based on a story by Thomas; director of photography, Ben Kutchins; edited by Daniel Gabbe; music by Josh Kramon; production designer, Jeff Schoen; produced by Thomas, Danielle Stokdyk and Dan Etheridge; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars), Jason Dohring (Logan Echolls), Krysten Ritter (Gia Goodman), Ryan Hansen (Dick Casablancas), Francis Capra (Eli ‘Weevil’ Navarro), Percy Daggs III (Wallace Fennel), Gaby Hoffmann (Ruby Jetson), Chris Lowell (Stosh ‘Piz’ Piznarski), Tina Majorino (Cindy ‘Mac’ Mackenzie), Jerry O’Connell (Sheriff Dan Lamb), Martin Starr (Lou ‘Cobb’ Cobbler), Ken Marino (Vinnie Van Lowe), Max Greenfield (Leo D’Amato), Eddie Jemison (JC Borden), Jamie Lee Curtis (Gayle Buckley) and Enrico Colantoni (Keith Mars).

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