Review: Veronica Mars (2014)

Veronica Mars

Rating

Director
Rob Thomas
Screenplay
Rob Thomas, Diane Ruggiero
Length
107 min.
Starring
Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Enrico Colantoni, Chris Lowell, Percy Daggs III, Tina Majorino, Krysten Ritter, Martin Starr, Gaby Hoffmann, Andrea Estella, Jerry O’Connell, Francis Capra, Ryan Hansen, Brandon Hillock, Maury Sterling, Sam Huntington, Max Greenfield
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for sexuality including references, drug content, violence and some strong language

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Review
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a decade since Veronica Mars first appeared on television. After three seasons of mystery adventure, Mars was cancelled and only through an outpouring of support from fans did creator Rob Thomas have the great idea to fund a feature film version of the character through crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter. The result is dripping in nostalgia, but missing a great deal of what made the original fun.

Loosely based on the popular literary teen detective Nancy Drew, Veronica (Kristen Bell) is the daughter of a local private investigator (Enrico Colantoni) railroaded out of his job for trying to uphold the law when his wealthy constituents wanted a pushover. For three seasons, Veronica investigated various crimes, most notably the death of her best friend Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried) in the first season, employing various private detective techniques to uncover the killer. Many believed Lilly’s boyfriend Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) was the culprit, but Veronica eventually uncovered the truth even with Logan’s seemingly frequent changes in attitude towards Veronica.

In the feature film version, Veronica has left her detective skills behind her as she hopes to become a prominent lawyer in New York City, but after Logan is arrested and accused of murdering his new girlfriend Bonnie DeVille (Andrea Estella), Veronica tries to help him find a good lawyer, but ultimately digs into a complicated murder with far-reaching consequences.

Bell has proven herself a capable actress over the years, handling drama and comedy with equal deftness, but her representation of Veronica Mars has defined her persona so greatly that telling the two apart becomes difficult at times. The same wise-cracking, take-no-guff Veronica is back, which helps satisfy a craving many of us have had for this franchise and this character since she debuted in 2004. The rest of the series’ principal cast has reunited for the feature, even if little more than cameo roles, with a few minor exceptions (Michael Muhney’s sheriff from the series has been replaced by his character’s brother played here by Jerry O’Connell).

One of the issues with Thomas’ feature film version is that his focus on nostalgia gives him too much leeway in creating loose, tangentially-related plot threads that undermine the film’s forward momentum. One particular series of events involving longtime friend/foe Eli “Weevil” Navarro (Francis Capra), goes nowhere, has no adequate resolution and serves to remind the audience that the show is, and always will be, a product of television. In fact, the first half f the film feels like an episode of the series, setting up numerous plot threads that might take a full 13 or 26 episodes to resolve. Unfortunately, the film feels more like an unfilmed segment of the third season where the season-long multi-tiered plots were replaced by short, multi-episode story arcs that barely connected with each other.

The Kickstarter campaign, a record-breaker for sure, may have focused Thomas too much on giving the fans what they wanted rather than shaving off the unnecessary parts and creating a more unified, cohesive whole. The plot lines with Weevil and Sheriff Dan Lamb (O’Connell) are superfluous and needed to be scrubbed or at least left as teaser for a potential follow-up feature. Whether or not that comes depends on how Warner Bros. felt the film’s success panned out. The film was a box office disappointment, largely because the show’s fans got free copies by contributing to Kickstarter.

Veronica Mars, in concept, is still a fantastic product. Bell as Mars gives life to a genuinely intelligent heroine who doesn’t rely on ass-kicking or superheroes to be a strong, compelling character. While I doubt Bell would be willing to tackle a new series with this character, it might be the better, more effortless place for a talent like Thomas to fully envision what Veronica Mars needs, plenty of suspects, an unlimited supply of snark and a bounty of twists, turns and dangers to thrill an audience on the small screen where such fare fits more naturally.
Spoiler Discussion
I referenced above two plot threads that were narratively inconsistent, debris that could have been jettisoned for the sake of brevity and cohesion. Both had very promising directions to take. Weevil was slowly being forced back into the life of crime he had successfully given up, which might have made a fascinating picture on its own, but which is given short shrift here. Reduced to a handful of scenes, we see Weevil succeed, get shot by a rich woman and then suddenly go back to his old criminal life for reasons that are presented blandly and without much detail.

The second plot line involves Dan Lamb’s reticence to investigate new leads in the Bonnie DeVille case forcing Veronica to dig into the matter on her home. While this provides the impetus to the film’s narrative, it’s shoehorned in to portray the air of police corruption that pervaded some aspects of the television series. While the scene where Veronica confronts the sheriff with the new lead ideas and he rejects them only to find them broadcast on the local television news ending his anticipated career in law enforcement are fun, they are ultimately filler. Again, like the Weevil plots, this type of corruption could have been developed more compellingly in series format rather than a feature film. As such, the entire subplot feels rushed and ultimately pointless, something the first two seasons of the series never had to deal with.
Oscar Prospects
Unlikelies: Everything
Review Written
August 14, 2014

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