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Saturday, March 15, 2014

The ‘Veronica Mars’ Some People Used To Know Is Back (Movie Review)



Veronica Mars:  3 out of 5

Logan:  I need your help Veronica.
Veronica:  I don’t really do that anymore…

I guess if I had to consider my attachment to the original Veronica Mars series and how it came into play with the viewing of this film, I would say I was in a fairly decent position to review the film, without caving into the pressures of being a fan and alienating those unfamiliar with the show.  Sure, I am a fan of the TV series, which I caught on Netflix, years after it was off the air.  That said, I have not revisited the series since.  This does not mean I did not have affection for the show, as I think Veronica Mars was a great series at its best, with fine performances from a large portion of its cast, which had a number of interesting characters and relationships, on top of a format that could balance comedy, drama, and mystery all in one.  Having a new movie to experience, my best hope was that it could continue in that tradition, without feeling like it was pandering exclusively to those who loved it all those years ago.  I never really thought it could stay away from that completely, but fortunately the film has enough sharp writing, aided by some nice lead performances, to make it worthwhile.




The film provides a brief summation of what the viewer needs to know from the outset.  Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) is a former teenage sleuth, who was able to solve the case involving the murder of her best friend, which also happened to ostracize her from most social circles.  Despite having a loving P.I. father (Enrico Calantoni) and few dependable friends (Tina Majorino, Percy Daggs III, and Francis Capra), Veronica left her hometown of Neptune, CA, in favor of pursuing a life in the big city.  Having left behind her young detective past, Veronica is now close to working as a lawyer in New York, only to be called back into action in Neptune.  It appears her former boyfriend, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), is the prime suspect in a murder case, which happens to coincide with Veronica’s high school reunion.  If ever there was a time to revisit the old days and possibly reopen old wounds, this would be it.

Given how this movie came about, I imagine there were a lot of high hopes for the fans and at most general curiosity for those that kept hearing something about some girl named Veronica and the lost basic cable station that was UPN.  Getting through the early parts of this film, I was honestly a bit worried.  While it was nice to see and hear from these characters again, this revisit was not doing a whole lot for me.  It was nice to hear the back and forth banter, scripted out by writer/director Rob Thomas, but it honestly felt like a very average detective story that happened to have the gloss of a property, with attributes that only fans would truly love.  I would not say I was bored, per se, but a low budget film with Kristen Bell’s pretty face and the general awesomeness that is Enrico Calantoni as Keith Mars was only getting me so far.


Fortunately, upon reaching the halfway point, which is when the film’s high school reunion takes place, I started to get a lot more on board with Veronica Mars: The Movie.  Maybe it had to do with the sudden spike in energy that extended beyond some witty quips, but the film started to click for me a lot more.  While the mystery was not exactly the most complex plot ever put to screen (it is actually almost too simple), it was serviceable enough to keep me invested, while I watched Veronica reconnect with a lot of different characters, who all make a far greater impact, were one to have once been a fan of the series.

This was always going to be the inherent problem with a fan-funded film and while the argument can be made that a lot of effort was put into making it a film that does not need to be watched with previous series knowledge, that does not automatically mean the film is still good on its own.  Now I do think Veronica Mars works as a standalone film, I just can’t call it a great one.  Yes, not knowing any of these characters does not hurt one’s understanding of the story or even the past relationships of the characters, but I can see it having a lack of much impact, if one really wants to invest themselves in this film, despite having no previous knowledge of what had took place in the past.


This actually hits at what I always found to be a minor problem with the original series – smugness.  As I stated, Veronica Mars is a show that was great at its best.  This came from tight plotting in the first season, some real ambition in its second, and all around strong character work from most of the actors.  Putting that aside, the writing had a tendency to lean on how self-aware it was, given the neo-noir nature of the series that blended with a know-it-all lead character and an aesthetic placed firmly in modern times.  That can be found in this film as well.  Along with the obvious time taken to please fans, there are a lot of knowing winks to the film being aware of itself that did not so much ruin the experience, but did keep in me in the mindset of being the one of many who are watching a film made possible by fans, as opposed to being fully immersed in a story involving characters I happened to be familiar with.

Quibbles aside, for a movie that is being released on VOD and only a few hundred screens, I am happier praising the achievement of its creators, given that that this thing exists.  The story is very fitting of a Veronica Mars plot, despite the cavalcade of cameos (from both previous cast members and celebrities that Bell is friends with), the acting is solid, particularly from Bell (despite too much voiceover), Dohring (who I wish was a bigger star), and Calantoni (who is one of the best TV dads ever), and the filmmaking on display works as far as separating itself from its TV roots.  Will it please fans? I am sure it will.  Will it rope in new fans?  Possibly, but there is a fun film to be found here, for the most part.  I may have found it to be a bit ordinary, but Thomas does have a knack for writing good dialogue, which makes me hope he can work on new material fit for an original property that can find better success than his cult hits like this and the sorely underseen Party Down.


So Veronica Mars has returned after its cancellation back in 2007.  A movie like this is not something entirely new, as we have seen the return of cult favorite media in various forms.  Firefly (Serenity), Arrested Development, Futurama, and Firefly more or less returned because fans would not shut up about it and now Veronica Mars has joined that fold as well.  The fact that it had a massive Kickstarter campaign certainly provides a unique spin to this story, but the result is the still similar: the return of a canceled series in movie form.  The real question is whether or not the movie is not only just satisfying for the fans, but a fine standalone film that anyone can enjoy.  As some would likely figure, the more acquainted with the characters an audience viewer is, the more accepting they may be.  This film may or may not kick start a huge revival for a cult-loved TV series, but it was a nice way to check-in with a series I used to be friends with.

Keith:  I’m sure you know that breaking and entering is a felony.
Veronica:  C’mon, I knew the felonies before I knew the state capitals.  


Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.

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