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Veronica Mars

Theatrical Review


Warner Bros.; 107 minutes

Director: Rob Thomas


Written by on March 14, 2014 




Here it is, marshmallows, the results of your faithful fan dedication in the form of a feature film. Good luck leaving your expectations at the door.

If you don’t get the marshmallow reference, then you are already at a slight disadvantage when coming to the film version of Veronica Mars, a labor of love that has truly been made for the fans with newcomers as an afterthought. That approach makes good sense too, when you consider that this follow-up to the cancelled three-season series about a teenage Californian detective was willed into existence by a fan-driven Kickstarter campaign, drumming up a record-breaking $5.7 million. The real question here is how well does this Mars navigate that tricky middle-ground, between telling an accessible story while indulging the faithful in the characters and world they came to love?

For the record, I’m a fan and enjoyed creator Rob Thomas’ smart and snarky show—sort of an update of Nancy Drew crossbred with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and then evolved so that it doesn’t really look like either—that wasn’t afraid to grow with its characters and tackle dark, serious issues without sacrificing an energetic, humorous tone that magnified the joys and the pains of its titular character. That first season introduced us to Neptune High student Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) who picked her way through a small community fractured by class struggle, while dealing with her estrangement from the high society she once occupied. In the wake of her best friend’s murder and her father’s public disgrace as sheriff, Veronica became a teenage gumshoe, sleuthing initially to help dad Keith’s meager private detective agency and then later, to solve a case the whole town had already closed the books on. Future seasons saw her go on to other mysteries, eventually arriving at college for the show’s last hurrah, amassing allies and enemies and, on the other side of the tv screen, a small but dedicated clutch of devotees.

Making a follow-up to a show that has a reasonably-sized but rabid base, especially years after it has aired, tends to be more trouble than it’s worth. There’s the burden of covering ground and finding a way to make these characters (and actors) the same people everyone fell in love with, while trying to distill narrative, development and dialogue into a single feature length frame. Previous examples like Joss Whedon’s Serenity, giving closure to prematurely cancelled Firefly, or Dead Like Me: After Death, a follow-up to Bryan Fuller’s quirky Showtime series, never really worked for me. They brought back all the right players and told stories that would have felt at home in the series, but they had the desperate feel of being last gasps, and that went against the rhythm the show structures had established. The less said about Chris Carter’s X-Files addendum, the better. The point, of course, is that these resurrections are often more a trap than a hopeful second lease.

Rob Thomas manages to navigate this minefield surprisingly well, and although Veronica Mars 2014 isn’t without a few signs of strain and weariness, the result is a movie that fans can enjoy and be satisfied with, while pointing it out to the uninitiated as good reason to get cracking on those three previous seasons. The prologue brings us into Veronica’s world while playing catch-up. She’s a decade away from where she first started, finished with law school, dating mild-mannered, white-bread Stosh (Chris Lowe) and getting ready to accept a choice job at a major law firm. Of course, no one came back here to watch Bell flounce about in the American dream, so Veronica is called back to her old stomping grounds of Neptune to help out ex- boyfriend, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring). Logan, a hot-tempered, volatile son of privilege who began the series as Mars’ nemesis and later represented the complex and sometimes unhealthy knack she had for troubled relationships, has been accused of murdering his pop-singer girlfriend.

Look, the murder mystery is durable enough to keep the film running, but it’s not especially interesting or well designed, in and of itself. Frankly, it would be forgettable as a main attraction, but it’s used as a graceful way to get this myriad of characters back together and in each other’s orbit, so we can have a reunion of sorts and, hopefully, watch them grow again. On that count, it does work, even if this packed ensemble, that brings back nearly every friend, enemy and Neptune detail you remember, sometimes glosses over familiar faces upon which the audience would prefer to linger. Thomas, though, clearly cares for each of them, and he demonstrates a certain relaxed wisdom in doling out screen-time; his movie is called Veronica Mars, and so every other aspect has been cast in service of further exploring and drawing out her character.

That quality of investigating what makes a girl like Veronica take on such a dangerous, edgy bent and then keep at it even when circumstances have drawn her away from it, is the one that establishes VM as the best television-to-movie rehash we’ve got yet. Bell steps back into the role in an interesting way, embodying all the charm, and quirky energy we remember but also carrying some of the weariness and psychic baggage that Veronica has accumulated over the years. Her self-destructiveness isn’t just used to explain reckless behavior on cases, it’s a prominent and troubling facet of her character that often vexes her loved ones. The two faces that prove most essential to the new film are Dohring’s Logan and Enrico Colantino as Keith Mars, and Bell’s chemistry with them stabilizes and enriches the dramatic beats.

My favorite aspect of the original show was the believable and interesting relationship Mars had with her father, and there was a refreshing dialogue between the two of them that recognized two broken people who had love and mutual respect, both unafraid of owning their familial roles and stepping out of them when it was in the best interest of the other. Keith, as much as anyone, is the external signpost  exposing Veronica’s trajectory. Fans might be waiting for many things from Logan and Veronica, but the movie has ideas of its own and they are worth seeing on your own. Dohring makes interesting choices regarding the character, and he’s got a tricky job of convincing us Logan has advanced as a person even when the evidence initially suggests otherwise.

What else can be said? Veronica Mars retains all of the humor and intriguing human dimension it possessed while on the air, and if the premiere storyline is basically a solid episode, well, that’s alright too. In fact, Thomas seems perfectly fine with the episodic format, and if this theatrical bow goes out of its way to retain the flavor of a television production, most will forgive it that. The result, after all, is the banishing of that desperate quality that sunk other would-be returnees. When the last frame of Mars plays, the tank is full of gas and the road looks wide and open for more adventure.

Against all odds, the marshmallows have been vindicated.

Veronica Mars is now playing in wide release and available on VOD.


B+







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