VERONICA MARS Movie Review – By Fans, For Fans
A three-season run – some, if not most of it, low-rated – on a second-tier television network generally doesn’t result in a big-screen adaptation seven years after the last episode aired, but for super-fans of Veronica Mars (2004-2007), including writer/executive producer/creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell, the title character’s long-awaited return via a big-screen adaptation was more than just a whimsical daydream or the topic of a casual conversation exchanged between friends. Veronica Mars’ rights-holder, Warner Bros., however, disagreed, refusing to fund a big-screen adaptation. It took the advent of Kickstarter, a well-publicized campaign (the first for a studio-owned property), and generous super-fans willing to invest financially in the Kickstarter campaign, eventually almost doubling the $3 million target, for Warner Bros. to greenlight Veronica Mars: The Movie. Unsurprisingly, the result won’t win any new converts to the title character, but super-fans won’t be disappointed. They’ll be delighted and charmed. Non-super-fans, however, won’t be.
When we meet up again with Veronica Mars (Bell), she’s as far away from her old life in Neptune, California as physically and temperamentally possible. After leaving Hearst College, she transferred to Stanford to complete her undergraduate degree. From there it was on to Columbia University’s School of Law, a law degree, potentially lucrative prospects with high-profile law firms, and a seemingly settled life with Stosh ‘Piz’ Piznarski (Chris Lowell). But time and distance have only changed Veronica superficially. She still hungers for the danger, excitement, and risk her old life as a teen and early 20-something PI gave her, but she refuses to heed the call to resume her old life – as any hero or heroine typically does where the Hero’s Journey (cf. Joseph Campbell) is involved (i.e., every Hollywood, mainstream film) – until she learns her one-time boyfriend and occasional murder suspect, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), has been, once again, suspected of murder.
With Logan facing life in prison for the murder of Carrie Bishop/Bonnie DeVille (Andrea Estella, subbing in for a too busy Leighton Meester), one of Veronica and Logan’s former high-school mates, successful pop star, and until recently, Logan’s girlfriend, Veronica does what any ex-girlfriend and former teen PI would do: She drops everything, postpones her start date at a high-end, NYC law firm, leaves a semi-supportive Piz behind, and heads back to California, ostensibly to help Logan choose a lawyer best suited to defend him, but more importantly, so she can reconnect with him, her father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni), Neptune’s former sheriff-turned-PI, and her old comrades-in-sleuthing, including – but not limited to – Wallace Fennel (Percy Daggs III), a former basketball player-turned-teacher/coach, and Cindy ‘Mac’ Mackenzie (Tina Majorino), Neptune‘s resident computer genius turned software engineer, and later, Eli ‘Weevil’ Navarro (Francis Capra), a former biker bad-boy-turned middle-class husband and father.
Veronica Mars: The Movie periodically hints at a larger conspiracy connected to a redevelopment project, an unnamed billionaire developer, and corrupt cops, but that conspiracy slips into the background – possibly to be picked up again in a sequel – for a disappointingly mundane, predictable mystery involving an earlier murder and a night of underage teen drinking. Veronica’s return also coincides with her high school’s 10-year reunion, giving her (and moviegoers) a chance to catch up with old foes, friends, and acquaintances, including Gia Goodman (Krysten Ritter) and Luke Haldeman (Sam Huntington), proverbial snobbish entitled rich kids turned snobbish entitled young adults. The murder mystery takes little effort on Veronica’s part to figure out, throwing in one minor twist that does little except postpone the inevitable and pad out the running time. It also functions as a framework or structure for Thomas to interweave cameos, references, and callbacks to the short-lived series via dialogue, music cues, and visuals, for the super-fans who supported Veronica Mars: The Movie – either through Kickstarter or an active online presence.
Super-fans will either dismiss the criticism of the mundane murder mystery as a minor problem (or not a problem at all). Before Thomas and Bell decided to go the Kickstarter route for funding, Veronica Mars’ return in either a big- or small-screen incarnation seemed increasingly unlikely with each passing year. And for all of Veronica Mars: The Movie’s small-screen storytelling, Bell’s assured, comfortable performance – especially when she’s repeatedly forced to deliver Thomas’ earnest, cornball dialogue or monologue via voiceover – helps considerably to smooth out Veronica Mars: The Movie’s bumps, minor or otherwise. Almost as importantly for super-fans, Veronica Mars: The Movie leaves the title character exactly where she belongs, awaiting the next mystery to solve or the next conspiracy to unravel.