Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Veronica Mars" (2014)

Starring Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring and Enrico Colantoni
Written by Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero
Directed by Rob Thomas
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language
Running Time: 107 Minutes

It's been nine years since Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) left her hometown of Neptune, California. In those nine years, she's gone to law school and reunited with her college boyfriend Stosh 'Piz' Piznarski (Chris Lowell). She's now on the verge of accepting a position at a prestigious New York law firm, but fate once again interrupts to draw Veronica back to Neptune.

A pop singer named Bonnie DeVille (Andrea Estella) has been found murdered, and the evidence points to Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), Veronica's old boyfriend. Logan and Veronica haven't spoken in nearly a decade, but Logan calls Veronica for help, prompting her to return home - against Piz's wishes. Back in Neptune, Veronica finds the town has both changed and remained the same. There's still a brewing battle between the haves and the have-nots, but corruption is now rife within the county sheriff's department.

Veronica hooks back up with her father, local PI Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni) and her best friends Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (Tina Majorino), who beg her to come to their 10-year high school reunion. Despite everyone's warnings to stay away, Veronica digs deeper into Logan's case, trying to help him come up with a viable defense. The problem is, the deeper she digs, the closer she gets to Logan... the 'bad boy' that she'd left behind for a reason.

It's difficult to cross the bridge from TV into the realm of film, more so for a film based on a TV show with three years worth of complex back story. It's difficult for those not already familiar with the characters and their history to jump on board, while at the same time not dumbing things down for fans who've been there since the beginning.

"Veronica Mars" comes to us thanks to a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign in which fans of the TV series directly funded the production of the film. And this film is, almost without a doubt, made for them.

First, the good: Very nearly the entire cast of the TV series returns, including a number of minor background characters, who all get a moment to shine. And it's a joy to once again spend time with these characters. Once again, the chemistry between Kristen Bell and Enrico Colantoni is wonderful, and gives more depth to the relationship between father and daughter than is really there on paper.

Bell's portrayal of Veronica feels like she never took any time off, let alone practically a decade. But this version of Veronica is a bit more experienced and mature, even as Veronica finds herself drawn back into all the old relationships and rivalries from high school. In being drawn back to Logan, Veronica knows she's opening herself to pain and heartbreak, and Bell plays it well.

Jason Dohring, at the same time, plays a different but recognizable Logan. He also is older, and though he's still got a bit of a temper and still finds himself in trouble, he's gone through a lot and recognizes that fact. He's a more mature Logan than we're used to seeing, one who no longer shies away from responsibility.

Chris Lowell is also good as Veronica's current boyfriend, Piz, though the movie criminally mistreats him just as much as the TV show ever did. Still, like the rest of the cast, he seems to be having a great time being back together and the film is better off for it.

Veronica's best friends, Wallace and Mac, have small roles but they also seem like no time has past for the actors portraying them. Ryan Hansen steals almost every scene he's in as perennially immature Dick Casablancas. Hansen's delivery is perfect, and many of his lines are pure howlers.

A plethora of other characters appear, and while this is fun for fans, it can ultimately be a detriment to the film itself. For example, as fun as it is for us, is it really necessary to devote screentime to catching up on what surfer-dude bong-maker Corny (Jonathan Chesner) is up to?

That isn't the film's only issue. Halfway through the film, the script introduces a subplot involving the corrupt sheriff's department and Eli 'Weevil' Navarro (Francis Capra) who has spent the last decade leaving his criminal past behind. But this subplot goes nowhere... except to lead us into obvious sequel setup at the film's end. Given that no sequel is guaranteed, since this film only exists due to direct fan funding, it seems odd to give over screentime to a subplot like that - more so since it's inserted in such a ham-fisted manner.

So while the film spends a good amount of time playing fan service and setting up a sequel, it feels sometimes like its own main plot gets shoved aside. The plot itself is decent, but nothing particularly special. It feels like something the show would have done in a couple episodes, and then gotten back to the big mystery. In fact, the presence of that corrupt cops subplot makes the entire movie feel like just the teaser for the bigger mystery to come in a second movie. That's fine for a TV show, but we're here to see this movie, now.

But ultimately, it's very far from a bad movie. On the whole, "Veronica Mars" is quite enjoyable - just as much an entertaining time at the movies that the TV series was. It's mostly built for fans, that much is obvious, but the mystery works and the script is full of wit and fun. Newcomers to the series will likely be very lost except for the basics, which the film spells out well enough, but much of the nuance will be lost.

"Veronica Mars" is playing in a limited number of theatres, but is also available via video-on-demand - the first film distributed by a major studio to do so. If you're a fan, this is a must-watch. If not, well, you should become a fan. The series is worth it and, despite its problems, so is the movie.

See Also
Veronica Mars (Season 1)
Veronica Mars (Season 2)
Veronica Mars (Season 3)