As sure as the sun will rise, Jessica Fletcher will always be surrounded by dead people. So as CBS heralds in the fourth installment of the “Murder, She Wrote” TV-show-turned-movie-franchise with “The Celtic Riddle,” know that it comes with few surprises.
This is low-tech detective work with charm and scenery, not “CSI”-like lab work and gross-out photography. And that’s what keeps the faithful coming back: Viewers won’t be disappointed with this latest pic unless, of course, they were expecting something fresh and original.
Script by Rosemary Anne Sisson and Bruce Lansbury — based on Lynn Hamilton’s novel “The Celtic Riddle” — is unremarkable; it could be generated from any number of Scooby-Doo episodes, it feels that routine.
Granted, nobody pulls a mask off the villain at the end, but you can guarantee the dastardly criminal would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for that meddling Jessica Fletcher.
Jessica is a one-woman mystery machine, a geriatric Velma with a bit of Daphne’s whimsy thrown in for fun. Here, Jessica heads to the Emerald Isle for the videotaped reading of the will of Eamon Byrnes, whom she helped out of a bind years ago.
Jessica is bequeathed a lovely cottage, much to the dismay of Eamon’s scheming widow. In addition to routine inheritances, Eamon sends the group of disgruntled family members and friends on a treasure hunt for an unknown prize, but the hunters start dying off one by one.
Lansbury still makes for a feisty heroine and proves you don’t need to physically kick butt to get the job done — a refreshing concept in an otherwise stale story. Full of anagrams to decipher, more than a few red herrings and ghostly graveyards with billowing fog, “The Celtic Riddle” is stereotypical but fun.
Secondary characters are pretty unmemorable, save for Sarah-Jane Potts as the punked-out Breeta Byrne, Eamon’s rebellious young daughter. Irish accents vary dramatically, with more than a few characters sounding like rejects from a Lucky Charms commercial.
Director Anthony Shaw makes as much use of the Irish countryside as possible, but a climatic scene in an old hermit’s cave is preposterously fake-looking.