Veronica Mars (2014) / Mystery-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexuality including references, drug content, violence and some strong language
Running Time: 107 min.
Cast: Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Enrico Colantoni, Gaby Hoffman, Jerry O'Connell, Krysten Ritter, Ryan Hansen, Tina Majorino, Percy Daggs III, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sam Huntington, Martin Starr, Chris Lowell, Eden Sher, James Franco, Ken Marino, Julie Gonzalo
Small role: Dax Shepard, Justin Long, Ira Glass, Harvey Levin
Director: Rob Thomas
Screenplay: Rob Thomas, Diane Ruggiero
Review published March 15, 2014
Veronica Mars will likely be in the film production discussion for many years to come, independently of its assessment as a movie and capper to a cult television show that ran on the UPN/CW from 2004-07. It's a film that solely came about thanks to the show's fan support (they're affectionately known as "Marshmallows") toward show creator Rob Thomas's effort through the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter, in which donations could be made by members of the public that would go to the production costs of the film. The Kickstarter campaign was an instant smash, ultimately raising over $5.7 million, and the project was a definite 'go' at that point. Not bad for a show that had once been one of the lowest-rated programs on primetime network television by the end of its third and final season.
Unlike most previous television shows that have been continued its series in a big screen movie format, Veronica Mars does not strive to give us a cinematic experience. It very much feels like a lengthy television episode, except with stronger language thrown in. Fans of the Nancy Drew-esque detective TV show should be enthralled; those coming into this cold may wonder why this wasn't produced as a television movie. It almost goes without saying that the more familiar you are with the TV show, the more you'll get out of this movie, as it references many characters and plot threads from its small-screen predecessor. However, one doesn't really need to see the TV show to follow this as a movie, as the film starts with a recap of the basics of what the show is about and who the main characters are, and as far as those familiar references -- well, you can mostly ignore them if you're not in the know.
Returning as the titular character is Kristen Bell (Frozen, The Lifeguard), the daughter of Keith Mars (Colantoni, Frank McClusky C.I.), a former sheriff who currently works as a private investigator in the fictional coastal California city of Neptune. She currently is set to pass the bar exam and become a lawyer in a prestigious New York City firm, but her plans get waylaid for a bit when she discovers her old flame Logan Echolls (Dohring, Deep Impact), now a war hero, has been accused of the murder of his girlfriend, who happened to have been a huge pop star. Back to Neptune Veronica goes, as she ends up smack dab in the middle of the investigation trying to exonerate Logan from his accusations, and her trail has her dig up events from her high school years, as well as visiting old friends.
As with the original television series, Veronica Mars offers a unique take in that the mystery to solve always hits close to home. This isn't a series in which Veronica puts pieces of the puzzle together and solves a mystery, only to never see or hear from the characters in the episode again, but rather, each episode changes the dynamics and politics of the town and alters our heroine's personal life in some way. Unfortunately, in so doing, the original TV show would eventually paint itself into a corner in terms of where it might plausibly go, and by the third season, a change of scenery was needed in order to bring in new story angles and all-new characters, and many in the viewing audience didn't make the jump with it.
There aren't too many differences other than the age of the characters and current occupations. Given its PG-13 rating, there is more adult language and humor than the TV show, though not overly so. The technical specs are also better, and given that this film is about two-and-a-half times the length of a TV episode (sans commercials), there's more room to breathe in the narrative arc department. However, the vibe and style of the film remain completely intact from its small-screen counterpart.
Although it feels very much like a very long episode of a television show, so long as you know this going in, and don't mind the very talky nature of it, the project will likely be seen as successful, even if it isn't any great shakes as a feature film, or even a good whodunit for that matter. Those familiar with the show will come away ecstatic, of course, but even if you come into it without much familiarity, Veronica Mars does manage to draw you in to its peculiar scenarios even when it's hard to keep track of the walk-ons of characters and references that we feel like we're supposed to know, but don't -- but we get that we don't and can move on. It may even make you a retro fan if you choose to seek out the old episodes you missed.
Given that the target audience will readily eat this up, and that it is inclusive of its many new viewers, Rob Thomas gets kudos for walking a very fine line between catering to a hardcore fan base without alienating newbies. It may be forgettable except as a film production footnote, but given what it is, this is how you do a TV-to-film translation right.
©2014 Vince Leo