Murder, She Wrote: The Celtic Riddle

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.

With:
Jessica Fletcher - Angela Lansbury Margaret Byrne - Fionnula Flanagan Breeta Byrne - Sarah-Jane Potts Eamon Byrne - Peter Donat Paddy Whelen - Cyril O'Reilly Nora Flood - Lynn Wanlass Inspector O'Dwyer - Timothy V. Murphy Michael Davis - Joe Michael Burke Tom Molloy - Andrew Connolly Fiona Byrne - Geraldine Hughes Kitty Murphy - Helena Carroll John Herlihy - Sean Lawlor Denny - W. Morgan Sheppard Harry Ryan - Gerry Gibson

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.

Murder, She Wrote: The Celtic Riddle

Telepic; CBS; Fri., May 9; 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed on location in Los Angeles and Ireland by Corymore Prods. in association with Universal Network Television. Executive producer, Charles F. Engel; supervising producer, Anthony Shaw; producer, Alex Beaton; director, Shaw; writers, Rosemary Anne Sisson, Bruce Lansbury, based on novel "The Celtic Riddle" by Lynn Hamilton.

Crew: Camera, Fred Murphy; editor, Stan Cole; music, Stanley Clarke; sound, Vince Garcia; casting, Patrick Rush, Alyson Silverberg. 120 MIN.

Cast: Jessica Fletcher - Angela Lansbury Margaret Byrne - Fionnula Flanagan Breeta Byrne - Sarah-Jane Potts Eamon Byrne - Peter Donat Paddy Whelen - Cyril O'Reilly Nora Flood - Lynn Wanlass Inspector O'Dwyer - Timothy V. Murphy Michael Davis - Joe Michael Burke Tom Molloy - Andrew Connolly Fiona Byrne - Geraldine Hughes Kitty Murphy - Helena Carroll John Herlihy - Sean Lawlor Denny - W. Morgan Sheppard Harry Ryan - Gerry Gibson

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