Friday, March 14, 2014

The 'Veronica Mars' movie

First off, I was one of the Kickstarter backers of Veronica Mars, so it wouldn’t be entirely wrong to consider me in the tank for the movie. But that’s pretty much the entire point of a movie financed via nearly $6 million in donations from fans of the 2004-2007 cult TV series. Unlike Serenity, the 2005 movie adaptation of Joss Whedon’s little-watched TV series Firefly, Veronica Mars isn’t really designed to introduce a new audience to the title character (Kristen Bell) and her friends and enemies. While it does feature a stand-alone plot (and take place nine years after the end of the TV series), the movie is structured around callbacks and inside jokes, the kind of references that will make hardcore fans gasp with delight (as they did at the midnight screening I attended).

That’s not to say that the movie is nothing more than fan service. The callbacks and references were an important part of the TV series, too, so it makes sense that creator Rob Thomas (who directed and co-wrote the movie) would include them in the movie version. A big part of the appeal of Veronica Mars both as a TV show and as a movie is the collection of shady characters in Veronica’s hometown of Neptune, California, to which she returns after a nine-year absence. Since the show ended, former teenage detective Veronica has graduated from Stanford with a degree in psychology and come in at the top of her class at Columbia Law School, and she’s up for a job at a prestigious Manhattan law firm when she gets a call from old flame Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), who’s been charged with the murder of his rock-star girlfriend (who also happens to be an old high school classmate).

Veronica’s return to Neptune to help Logan conveniently coincides with her 10-year high school reunion, which is a good excuse for Thomas to trot out brief appearances from a whole range of supporting players from the TV show. The central mystery isn’t as compelling as Veronica’s investigation of her best friend’s death during the show’s first season, but the involvement of Logan as the prime suspect definitely ups the stakes for Veronica. Whenever it seems like Thomas is just placating fans with familiar references, he’ll throw in an unexpectedly strong emotional moment between Veronica and Logan or Veronica and her private-eye dad Keith (Enrico Colantoni).

It also helps that Bell is always at her best as Veronica, and she slips back into the role like no time has passed. Thomas and co-writer Diane Ruggiero are still great at coming up with snarky banter and hard-boiled narration for Veronica, and although the movie may be clumsy at times, it’s always entertaining. Fans may quibble about certain aspects of the story (more time for Veronica’s buddies Wallace and Mac, who seem to get short shrift in favor of Veronica/Logan swooning, would have been nice), but ultimately Thomas, Bell and the entire cast and crew have done exactly what they promised their Kickstarter backers they would do. It’s hard to argue against such an obvious labor of love.

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