REVIEW: “Veronica Mars”

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It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what stirred my interest in the recent television-to-big screen movie “Veronica Mars”. I have never watched a second of the UPN and later CW television series. In fact I had no idea what the show was about or who Veronica Mars was. I had also heard practically nothing about the movie itself, how it ties into the series, and if a prior knowledge of the show was essential to understanding the film. So what on earth was it that drew me to see “Veronica Mars”?

I finally concluded that one of my attractions to the project was the perky and infectious Kristen Bell. She is certainly not what you would call a top-tier actress and she has made her share of stinker films. Yet there has always been something about her that I find fun. I was also attracted to the story behind how the film was eventually made. Some six years after the show was cancelled, show creator Rob Thomas and Bell started a fundraiser via Kickstarter in hopes of bringing “Veronica Mars” to the big screen. After a month the campaign had earned over $5.7 million from donors and Warner Brothers picked it up for distribution.

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The film starts out with a brief narrated summary of the series mainly intended for newbies like me. Nine years have passed and Veronica (Bell) has moved out of Neptune, California. She lives in New York City, has a great boyfriend, and is on the verge of landing a prominent job at a prestigious law firm. But then she hears the news that a former classmate and current self-destructive rock star has been murdered and Veronica’s ex-boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring) has been accused of committing the crime. Veronica agrees to go back to Neptune to help Logan select the best council for the upcoming trials.

But of course if that is all there was this would be one boring movie. While back in Neptune Veronica runs into many of the same headaches and conflicts as before – the people who made her high school life miserable, the high society arrogance, and the unbridled corruption of the local sheriff’s department. On the good side she gets to spend time with her private detective father (Enrico Colantoni) and reconnect with few good friends she left behind. There is clearly a lot of connections that make these relationships meaningful – connections that saw their genesis in the television series. But writer and director Rob Thomas does a good job of giving us the general idea of who these people are.

And then there is the murder case. Soon Veronica finds herself drawn into the mystery and the revelations of small clues are just enough to keep her in Neptune a little longer. Well, the clues and Logan. I know nothing about their past relationship and their reconnection is one of the aspects of the film that suffered (from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the original material). They do have a nice chemistry and you genuinely get the sense that Veronica wants to help this old friend. There are also a number of other characters that pop up as well as an assortment of cameos.

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“Veronica Mars” is definitely a budget film. Everything about it feels like a television show and it never rises above standard television production value. The camera work, the dialogue, the story structure – it all feels like it could have melded right in with the TV series. But is that automatically a bad thing? Considering the budget constraints and its television roots, “Veronica Mars” actually feels right at home. More importantly it tells a good and intriguing story. There are momentary contrivances and the occasional strained dialogue, but ultimately the movie works.

Do you have to be knowledgeble of the TV series to enjoy “Veronica Mars”? Thankfully no, but there were plenty of times where I felt out of the loop (I still don’t know what marshmallows have to do with anything). It certainly doesn’t lean on cinematic grandeur nor is the script without a few bumps. But “Veronica Mars” does deliver where it counts. It’s entertaining, Bell is fantastic, and I was engaged with it from the start. It’s clear that a lot of heart was behind the project and I tip my hat to the filmmakers, the stars, and the fans who had the passion to make a movie like this happen. And don’t worry, the pieces were definitely put in place for yet another trip to Neptune.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS