In the Veronica Mars movie, the titular character (once again played by Kristen Bell) has left small town Neptune behind in favor of life in New York City – as a lawyer and significant other to Stosh “Piz” Piznarski (Chris Lowell). However, when her high school classmate and love interest Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) is accused of murdering his pop star girlfriend, Veronica returns to her hometown in order to help Logan select competent legal counsel in preparation for his trial.
Yet, as Veronica learns more about the murder, she becomes increasingly convinced that Logan is faultless, framed by the true killer, and sets out to prove his innocence. In the process she enlists the help of old friends, faces off against former nemeses, and butts heads with the new town Sheriff Dan Lamb (Jerry O’Connell). Chastised by Neptune classmates and pursued by corrupt cops (par for the course in the life of Veronica Mars), she pushes forward with her investigation – putting her safety as well as the life she’s built in New York City on the line.
After the abrupt cancellation of the Veronica Mars TV series, director Rob Thomas prepared a film script to help provide closure to the show’s characters and remaining story arcs. After Warner Bros. passed on the project, Thomas enlisted fan help through a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign – raising an additional $5 million in funding. Thankfully, the money was a worthwhile investment – and fans now have a fitting conclusion to their beloved series. Therefore, the movie is a no-brainer for “Marshmallows”; having said that, for viewers that have never seen the original TV show, the Veronica Mars movie will be significantly less affecting.
Understandably, fan service is priority one and to that end the story draws heavily from past characters and narrative arcs. Newcomers will likely find the film enjoyable at surface level but will also be left in the dark throughout – as faces from Veronica’s days in Neptune are regularly thrown in with little context. Fortunately, the show (and subsequently the movie) often relies on basic murder of the week-style storytelling – providing an approachable foundation. Like any serialized TV mystery, the final reveal isn’t going to wow viewers but there are enough compelling twists and turns along the way to keep the film engaging (even for non-fans).
Still, TV roots are noticeable. While there aren’t any expensive chase sequences or other staples of movie mysteries, production values on the film are solid – especially in light of the modest budget. That said, there’s often a disconnect between the quality of select onscreen performances. Key members of the cast haven’t done much acting since the show was cancelled while others have gone on to big screen success. As a result, in certain moments, a few fan-favorite characters come across stiff and stilted – outshined by actors that are more nuanced and overall effective. The divide is compounded further by on-the-nose cameos ranging from A-listers like James Franco to Bell’s offscreen husband Dax Shepard that are mildly amusing, at best, and often downright distracting.
This isn’t to say that any of the core performances are bad, it’s just that, in his attempt to reunite the entire Veronica Mars cast (from all three seasons), Thomas creates a challenging environment – where former teen actors are expected to reprise ten-year-old roles while also standing toe-to-toe with a charismatic Hollywood veteran like Kristen Bell. The effort will be a welcome trade-off for fans who, without question, wanted to see what all of their favorite characters are up to in 2014 – but, as a standalone movie, performances are noticeably uneven.
Fortunately, the main cast relishes in revisiting their Veronica Mars roles – especially Bell who, thanks to eight years as a full-on movie star, brings more complexity to Veronica than ever before. Considering the film is a continuation of the TV series, limited by years worth of development, Bell isn’t able to outright redefine Veronica as much as she might have liked but there are a number of subtle evolutions to the character that will be interesting to fans – while also ensuring that she’s dynamic enough for outsiders to become invested in the moment-to-moment drama.
Other fan-favorites return as well. Veronica’s father, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni) is, once again, one of the best parts of the Veronica Mars ensemble and it’s especially entertaining to see him attempt to manage this older and more mature version of his daughter. Given the circumstances, Logan Echolls gets a significant amount of screen time – with a good-natured variation of the former troublemaker for Jason Dohring to explore – with side kicks like Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen) and Cindy “Mac” Mackenzie (Tina Majorino), among others, pumping a steady stream of comedy relief into the mix.
Ultimately, the Veronica Mars movie is a win-win for fans and filmmakers alike and a fitting sendoff to the beloved series. Thomas packs his movie with countless returning faces, wrapping a serviceable mystery story around their reunion, while injecting the same quirky and self-referential humor that made the original TV series a favorite among its viewers. Though, for non-Veronica Mars watchers, the film is likely to be, at times, confusing and alienating, dedicating a significant chunk of the runtime to jokes and references that newcomers will not understand at all, while offering only an average murder mystery adventure in return. Moviegoers who never watched Veronica Mars but are interested in learning what all the fuss was about are better off starting at the beginning (with season 1 of the series). After all, why would you want to begin a great book by reading the epilogue?
If you’re still on the fence about the Veronica Mars movie, check out the trailer below:
Veronica Mars runs 107 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for sexuality including references, drug content, violence and some strong language. Now playing in theaters and available for download through iTunes.
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