By Brian Tallerico | March 13, 2014

When the Kickstarter for Rob Thomas’ cinematic reboot of his beloved TV series Veronica Mars hit its goal, the flood of emotions must have been overwhelming. Not only could Thomas bring back everyone’s favorite teen P.I. and her crime-solving (and often crime-committing) friends, but he could allow “Ronnie” to play with new toys like spycams, flash drives, and YouTube channels. He probably had a season’s worth of character development, a few ideas for murder mysteries, and so many things he wanted to do with a film that he never thought would actually happen.

To the film’s detriment, he tried to do them all. Veronica Mars is a smart, fun movie that also feels distinctly like at least a half-season worth of plot and character crammed into a film’s running time. The result is a film that’s too often unfocused, especially in the first half, but can also be remarkably entertaining. If anything, it proves that this character and her world is still vibrantly alive. Unlike a lot of TV shows turned into films, it serves not as an epilogue to the series but, hopefully, the beginning of a new franchise.

After a nice series recap for the uninitiated, Veronica Mars opens with its heroine (Kristen Bell, still so comfortable in this character’s shoes) having moved as far away from Neptune, California as possible. She’s in New York City, trying to get a job at a high-powered law firm (where she’s interviewing with Jamie Lee Curtis, one of many cameos in the flick), and dating Piz (Chris Lowell). Veronica’s life is turned upside down when high school love Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) is accused of murdering his pop star girlfriend. Of course, Logan didn’t do it and only Veronica can get him off the hook. She heads home to Neptune, first just to offer advice to Logan’s attorney, but quickly getting back into the deep crime scene in her hometown.

Of course, a return to Neptune allows time in the spotlight for the show’s many great supporting characters, especially since Logan’s dead ex went to the same high school, which, wouldn’t you know it, is having a ten-year reunion this weekend. (See what I’m saying about a lot of plot?) Naturally, the main supporting face in this crowd is Veronica’s dear old dad Keith (Enrico Colantoni), who likes the chance to see his daughter again but worries that she’ll be drawn back into a life that she deliberately left behind. Friends Mac (Tina Majorino) and Wallace (Percy Daggs III) are still in town to serve as Scooby Mars’ gang to help her solve the case, and a wide swath of Mars’ stars get a scene or two. Look, it’s Max Greenfield! Yeah, I missed Ken Marino! Weevil!!!

A few too many of the scenes have an expository problem like The Chris Farley Show – Remember this guy? Wasn’t he awesome? The first act, in particular, feels cluttered with characters and story points, especially when Thomas introduces a subplot about corrupt cops that would have worked over multiple episodes but distracts here and a violent scene involving a supporting character that feels totally out of place. It’s a scene from episode seven of the scrapped half-season that makes up the film but doesn’t work here.

Despite the sense that too much narrative is being rushed and too many characters are being forced on us, it’s hard to imagine that fans of the show, who really are this film’s producers, will walk away disappointed. What we loved about the program is intact. Bell is better here than she’s ever been on film, conveying the confidence of the woman we all thought Mars would become while recognizing that her one Achille’s Heel (Logan) could destroy all of it. And Thomas’ script smartly handles the cynical concept that we’re often drawn back into what we know even despite our better judgment. Veronica has a dream job and dream man in NYC but she can’t avoid the former love that she calls an addiction.

It also helps that the supporting cast, while undeniably overcrowded, is incredibly fun. Krysten Ritter is woefully underrated in everything and so it’s great to see her return as Gia Goodman. Ryan Hansen is funny again as Dick Casablancas. Martin Starr just rules. In everything. Majorino, Colantoni, Marino, Daggs III – one of the main reasons we fell in love with the TV show Veronica Mars was its fantastic ensemble and that’s totally intact here. While I had issues with the unbalanced storytelling and sense that I was really just watching a TV show blown up to big screen size (it will likely play even better at home, On Demand), I was never bored and rarely less than entertained by spending some time with old friends that I didn’t even realize how much I missed.

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