March 16, 2014

Movie Review: Veronica Mars

Ten years ago Rob Thomas (not the Matchbox 20 guy) introduced us to the character of Veronica Mars and a whole host of colorful supporting characters. It was a show that I took to pretty quickly. Unfortunately, it was canceled after three seasons. The series, of the same name, ended up being another critical success and popular failure that became a victim of the UPN and WB network merger. I was sad to see it go, but that is the way things seem to go. I never did think I would see the character again, despite Rob Thomas talking about bringing the series back or making a movie. Now here we are.

In an effort to get a movie made, but not being able to get studio backing, Thomas turned to Kickstarter to raise the money, making it a fan-funded project. I remember hearing about it last year when it got off the ground, but I never did pay it any mind. As it is now pretty apparent, they made the money and the movie got made. Looking up the Kickstarter I find they were targeting $2 million and made over $5 million. All I can say at this point is “Good for them,” I really am happy and even more glad that I got to see the film, and, of course, enjoyed it as much as I did.

For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Veronica Mars could easiest be described as a modern day Nancy Drew. It is definitely a modern television series and it is written with an intelligent and slightly sarcastic bent, much in the vein of Buffy the Vampire Slayer from some years before. Both are series built on an independent, intelligent, outsider, who sometimes falls prey to their own emotions. They are characters who always try to do the right thing, but often make mistakes along the way.

The character of Veronica Mars was a high school student with a sheriff father. Her best friend is murdered and their mutual investigation into the case brought them into conflict with the town's richest family, turning them into outcasts. Mars becomes something of a private investigator, always managing to find herself in the middle of all the seedy goings on in the rich California town. The movie picks up some years later, Veronica has gotten out of the town of Neptune and is in New York interviewing for a job at a powerful law firm. She has finally put her junior sleuthing behind her. Then the movie happened. Isn't that the way things always go?

I really loved the film. It is not without its flaws, and I am sure I rated it higher than what it really deserves based on nostalgia and affection for the characters, but so what? What are we if not a collection of subjective experiences that affect and color everything else. Complete impartiality is an impossibility, not matter how hard you try.

Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) sees a news report that a pop star has been murdered in her home town. Normally, this would just be a tragic event, however, when it comes to Neptune, nothing is normal. The murdered singer is a former classmate of Veronica's and the number one suspect is Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), Veronica's former adversary/boyfriend. She is drawn back to the town to help her old friend, visit her father (Enrico Colantoni), see some old friends, and try to avoid going to her ten year high school reunion.

Of course, she gets a more than she bargained for and is drawn back into her old sleuthing ways as she tries to find the real killer. Along the way we get to see just about everyone who ever appeared in the series along with a few others. Jamie Lee Curtis has an early scene, James Franco appears as himself, plus Bell's real life beau, Dax Shepard, appears in a brief sequence.

The Veronica Mars movie is a love song to the show and a movie that is really only made for the fans. If you are not a fan or are unfamiliar with the series this is not going to be a movie for you. Unlike, say, Serenity, which can be enjoyed without knowledge of Firefly, this movie really requires that you know the show. It has a limited audience, but there is nothing wrong with that. This likely being the swansong for the character, it makes sense to target the old fan and cover that ground.

Now, while I really liked the film, it is not exactly a great one. The story moves way too quickly and is resolved much too easily. It has the trademark wit, but it seems to be decidedly less clever overall. Much of the cast are used in glorified cameos to get that bit of recognition before moving along. It is the nature of the beast, it is what happens when you make a movie for the fans and know you don't have the benefit of a series to expand into. Still, I think that writer/director Rob Thomas did the best that he was able and the end result was still supremely entertaining.

It is nice to see the Kickstarter work so well and I am glad to have gotten to see the movie in a theater. If you are or were a fan, I encourage you to see it, it is well worth it. If you do not know the show, go back and acquaint yourself with this under-appreciated gem.

Highly Recommended.

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