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May 5, 2014

Movie Review – Veronica Mars (2014)

by Master Pillow

 “A Long time ago, we use to be friends but I haven’t thought of you lately at all. If ever again, a greeting I send to you, short and sweet to the soul is all I intend.”

Listening to The Dandy Warhols’ “We Used to Be Friends” after all these years really feels incredibly nostalgic and, in this case, all the more so as this is the theme song to the cult TV show, Veronica Mars. It comes as no surprise that director/writer Rob Thomas draws inspiration from the song and these first few lines basically encapsulates the entire Veronica Mars Movie experience. This is a feature film purposely made by and for fans and the end result is more than worth it with a few caveats.

Make no mistake the Veronica Mars Movie is a giant slice of nostalgia pie, essentially reuniting the entire main cast of the show in a plot that feels very much like a two hour epilogue to the final third season that ended on a massive, albeit emotionally grim, cliffhanger. The series was never a ratings hit but it still managed to carve out a significant fanbase, yet nothing could save the show from plummeting viewership and it concluded by leaving audiences hanging without a chance for closure.

Or so everyone thought.

By now many have heard of Kickstarter and what it represents as fledging entrepreneurs can pitch their ideas to the Internet and receive money from backers to fund them. Although there have been many success stories on Kickstarter by and large most projects fail to achieve their goals in convincing Netizens to part with their dollars.

There has always been talk of a new Veronica Mars TV show or movie but director/writer Rob Thomas was forever unable to convince the studio to pony up the cash to try again so lo and behold he concocted a plan with actress Kristen Bell to take the proposal to Kickstarter in order to gain enough funding to convince the studio that this was viable.

Long story short, Thomas set the Kickstarter goal for $2 million USD, a figure that was reached in less than ten hours and by the time the project timeframe was up the film garnered a whopping $5.7 million. The Veronica Mars fans voted with their wallets and in doing so made Hollywood suddenly take notice that small niche films with ardent fanbases could potentially turn into lucrative revenue streams.

The very fact that the Veronica Mars movie was even made in such a fashion can already be deemed a success as there just aren’t many examples where fan campaigns have ever convinced studios to keep shows on the air. Star Trek comes to mind back in 1966 but it was through written fan letters that kept the show alive whereas with Veronica Mars one can argue that the studio took even greater interest since fans were paying with upfront money.

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Set 10 years after the events in the TV show’s final episode the movie opens with a very well-edited flashback sequence meant to educate non-fans about the show as it condenses three seasons of plot into about five minutes by distilling everything down into their most basic components. Even diehard fans will be pleased by this recap, especially those that might be a bit rusty in their recollections as it provides the gist of the show and introduces the title character, Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), as a highly intelligent yet spunky go-getter teenage sleuth with a ton of moxie. At the same time it quickly educates viewers on most of the other major characters most presciently, her temper-challenged ex-lover, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) and the duo’s stormy relationship.

Now a young adult, Veronica Mars has long since left her home town of Neptune and her former vocation as a teen sleuth behind her and instead has spent the last nine years trying to rebuild her life in New York City. Graduating from a prestigious University and involved in a stable relationship with the upstanding, Piz (Chris Lowell), she now stands at the start of a potentially long and lucrative career as a Wall Street lawyer having impressed upper management during a job interview. However, as fate would have it her idyllic life is suddenly torn asunder when she sees a news report that famous pop star and Veronica’s former high-school classmate Carrie Bishop has been murdered and that the prime suspect is none other than her long-time passionate ex-flame, Logan Echolls.

Almost on cue, she receives a call from Logan asking for her assistance in the case but she informs him that she has long since given that life up and instead relents to his wishes in trying to help him find an appropriate lawyer. With that fateful decision she buys a ticket back to Neptune to help Logan but it isn’t long before she is once again sucked into local politics as well as allowing herself to be emotionally reconnected to her past.

Let it be said that Veronica Mars the movie feels very much like a Star Trek film in that newcomers to the franchise will certainly be able to understand the plot as well as getting the gist of all the character relationships yet it is truly only the diehard fans that have the most to gain. There is just no conceivable avenue in which a newcomer can understand or even realize how these characters have grown or the prior events that shaped their lives. Not only that but previous plotlines and subtext such as the TV show’s strong emphasis on class politics that shaped the small town of Neptune will inevitably not even register to fresh eyes and in a way can actually be detrimental to the entire experience.

The Veronica Mars Movie is for fans of the show and in that regards the film is a huge success but there is also no shaking the fact that this is one project where fan “intervention” is clearly a double-edged sword. There are so many returning characters that nearly all of them, with the exception of Veronica and Logan, are reduced to petty roles that rarely, if ever, aid in the main narrative. Even worse, the excessive number plays havoc with the film’s primary detective story as Veronica attempts to clear Logan’s name and discover the true perpetrator.

Long-time fans will probably be able to guess early as to the real killer’s identity simply by a quick process of elimination since they have previous knowledge about the show in which to draw from but the real issue lies with non-fans. The crowded cast of characters means that director Rob Thomas has to pay lip service to many of them, including the real perpetrators, leaving precious little time for viewers to piece together the clues needed to solve the mystery on their own. A compelling mystery is one that allows viewers the chance to figure out the crime all by themselves but the next to complete dearth of evidence and lack of character interaction with all the suspects really devalues the central plot.

To be fair to Rob Thomas, even though Veronica Mars the TV show usually revolved around mysteries, that was not the primary reason for the show’s success as it was much deeper than that with a solid emphasis on societal class warfare, crooked law enforcement and a huge part of that revolved around Veronica and her dad’s (Enrico Colantoni) seemingly underdog status as not only the voice of reason but of strong moral standing that set them in opposition to virtually everyone else.

At the same time, fans were naturally drawn to Veronica Mars as a character as she was truly compelling in her own right to the point where even today many attest to her being a strong role-model for young women. The show was frequently punctuated with numerous voiceover moments where Veronica would state her opinion, utilizing her sarcastic wit that once again showed her keen intellect while also reminding everyone that Kristen Bell is seriously one of the best voiceover actresses around. I must admit that listening to Bell once again slip back into her Veronica Mars persona that I couldn’t help but remember her other voice work from Gossip Girl or even the recent Frozen as she just has impeccable elocution and timing.

Unfortunately, some of the supporting characters appear as if they are involved in a totally different storyline that really accentuates the feeling that this is a tale that director/writer Rob Thomas initially wrote all those long years ago for the never-to-be-filmed 4th season of the show. Whole segments of the film that deal with Veronica’s dad, Keith Mars, and his ongoing investigation into local police corruption are completely tangential to the central narrative yet its inclusion only makes sense when one realizes that the movie is really nothing more than a two-episode arc for a long TV season.

TV shows are structured much differently from feature films and it is not an uncommon tactic to have an A and B plot going on at the same time and consequently, only one of them needs to be resolved by the end credits whereas the other can serve as a link to subsequent shows. This tactic nearly never works in feature films as these plotlines remain dangling without sufficient closure and though they clearly can function to setup a sequel one gets the impression that they do nothing but chew up significant screentime that would be better served with the main plot or by furthering character development.

Another instance of this would be the entire subplot featuring another fan favourite character, Weevil (Francis Capra), who previously led a rough and tumble motorcycle gang but now has reformed into an upstanding citizen replete with a wife and kids. Veronica’s reunion with him is certainly a blast yet their merriment soon turns dire when Weevil attempts to save a local socialite from a biker gang only to get erroneously shot by her instead and subsequently framed by the local police who plant a gun in his hands.

The final shot of a now discharged Weevil once again donning his biker outfit and resuming his role of gang leader is simply bittersweet and speaks volumes as to how the tortured city of Neptune has somehow conspired to force him back into his old ways. However, while these segments tug at your heartstrings they in no way further the murder mystery and only serve to accentuate the town’s inherent sleaziness. That would be great if featured in the following episodes but the issue here is that this is a film with a definitive conclusion, meaning that audiences are once again left hanging like a season ending cliffhanger wondering what comes next.

Still, extraneous fat that is purposely there only to please fans aside, the movie still manages to impress due almost solely to Kristen Bell who easily slips back into the title role with apparent gusto. Sure, she might be a bit older but by and large she’s still as precocious as she ever was except this time the movie throws in the entire subplot that has her wrestling with her conscience in trying to decide her future path. In a strange fashion, her inner turmoil about trying to build a future with Piz in New York as opposed to her still latent feelings for Logan are not what really drives the film as it is really her relationship with her father that comes across as more engaging.

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Fans of the show will undoubtedly know that Veronica has always had an emotional bond with her dad as the duo have gone through so much together and this relationship thankfully still exists in the film. In contrast, her romantic waffling between the “good boy” Piz and “bad boy” Logan isn’t nearly as successful as it wants to be merely because viewers can guess what happens within ten minutes of the opening credits. Concurrently, perhaps too much time has passed or that Logan has mellowed immensely but Kristen Bell’s scenes with Jason Dohring aren’t exactly as emotionally charged as one would have thought and they come off flat, to the point where the previous chemistry seems to no longer be present. That’s not particularly good especially when the romance figures heavily into Veronica’s inner turmoil or even to the main murder mystery.

In the end, the Veronica Mars movie does exactly as advertised by once again reuniting the TV show’s cast for one last adventure together and its strong dose of nostalgia should be enough to please long-time fans who have been clamoring for one last kick at the bucket. It not only manages to answer all the questions left dangling by the series’ curt finale but it also provides cogent justification for how all the characters matured over the intervening years. Some might say that Veronica herself hasn’t changed much but by and large that’s actually not a problem as she remains just as spunky and quick-witted as ever and though the film itself leaves gapping plot points unanswered this is one time where fans frankly won’t give a damn as their prayers have been answered by the preceding 90 minutes.

If there is going to be a sequel and every indication points positive looking at the strong box office and video on demand sales, then one hopes Rob Thomas decides to spend more time on a totally self-contained movie that doesn’t rely on a ton of cameos or tangential characters who are only included to tick off a giant fan made checklist. One gets the impression that Thomas felt far too beholden to his fanbase backers this time around and was essentially strait-jacketed in crafting a product that tried to appease everyone. He got away with it this time but this baggage needs to be completely jettisoned for the next go-around.

**1/2 out of ****

2014, USA, 107 Minutes, Warner, PG-13
Directed by Rob Thomas
Story by Rob Thomas
Screenplay by Rob Thomas & Diane Riggiero
Produced by Dan Etheridge, Rob Thomas, Danielle Stokdyk
Executive Producer Kristen Bell, Jenny Hinkey, Andy Mellett, Joel Silver
Music by Josh Kramon
Cinematography by Ben Kutchins
Film Editing by Daniel Gabbe

Kristen Bell: Veronica Mars
Jason Dohring: Logan Echolls
Enrico Colantoni: Keith Mars
Chris Lowell: Stosh ‘Piz’ Piznarski
Percy Daggs III: Wallace Fennel
Tina Majorino: Cindy ‘Mac’ Mackenzie
Krysten Ritter: Gia Goodman
Martin Starr: Stu ‘Cobb’ Cobbler
Gaby Hoffmann: Ruby Jetson
Andrea Estella: Bonnie DeVille
Francis Capra: Eli ‘Weevil’ Navarro
Ryan Hansen: Dick Casablancas

© 2014 The Galactic Pillow

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