Veronica Mars (2014)

So the tv show Veronica Mars was a something I watched an enjoyed more for the presence and voice of the main character Veronica Mars than for the murder mysteries she was tasked to solve each season. It was a show I enjoyed for the attitude and the performance Kristen Bell gave her character (and the writing of her witty, pop-culture aware dialog). But the show was short-lived and was cancelled after three or four seasons. There were a number of attempts to resurrect the show – the showrunner and Kristen Bell were actively trying to revive it and the fanbase were very vocal behind that endeavor (the fanbase, i should add, who were much much more into the show than ever I was).

Kristen Bell is a cool actress – gorgeous and smart / quick-witted – who was quickly pigeon-holed after the show went off the air in terrible and terribly generic romantic comedies like When in Rome and You Again (though Forgetting Sarah Marshall was a bright spot). She’s actively had a career otherwise in voice over work and recently got a gig on the Showtime show House of Lies (and voiced/sang Anna in Frozen so kudos on that). My point behind this mini-bio is that I’m sure she missed playing Veronica Mars – a character with brains and a quick wit – since she wasn’t getting offered those roles in Hollywood movies (which seemed to prefer to cast her as the Katherine Heigl replacement when people stopped liking Heigl).

Veronica Mars, the movie, was a Kickstarter campaign by Rob Thomas with the active participation of Kristen Bell (and the other actors). When the studios wouldn’t give them the money to make it, they went to the fans and got a couple million dollars to make the movie (which was no-doubt backed in some fashion by the studios, if in no other way than at least advertising). Th movie was released to limited theaters and Video on Demand this weekend. That’s a lot of pre-amble to explain the existence of the movie but I think that’s somewhat important to understanding and knowing if you’ll enjoy it.

My local theater got this flick – and it was only release in 300 or so screens so I count myself lucky. Though I could have watched it on iTunes, I figured I’d support it as a theatrical release.

What is Veronica Mars though, in general? The premise of the show was that Veronica Mars was a teenage private eye (a through-line the movie’s narration admits sounds kind of silly). She and her dad worked as a team in the corrupt California town of Neptune where she would solve crimes each week and an overall murder mystery that ran through each season. Like I mentioned above, most of this was fine in my book but not amazing – mostly I just loved Kristen Bell’s performance and the whip-sharp dialog of a kick-ass female character (who was a sharp, tough cookie but not a super hero – she was human, would be scared in dangerous situations, and didn’t actually kick ass, though she was certainly kick-ass if you get my point).

So the movie picks up 9 years later with another murder mystery that brings her back to Neptune (the fact there’s a class reunion she was trying to avoid gives an excuse to bring back as many of the side characters as well). And, as it was with the tv show, the murder mystery here is fine and serviceable but it’s the characters and the acting that work for me, not the overall plot. If they’d managed to make a better story or better told story, I’d rate the flick better (not that I’m rating it terribly) but I think it’s just symptomatic of the show and the movie that I don’t find the plots very compelling. Your opinion of the same will no doubt depend on your devotion to the show. If you’re the kind of superfan who loved everything about the show, this movie will rate much higher on your scale. If you have no idea who any of these characters are, I imagine the movie will rate lower as the movie really expects you to know what’s going on. There’s a fair number of inside jokes that I caught and I suspect a number that I missed because I wasn’t as devoted a fan (I know I was missing things as the audience I was with was clearly made up of superfans who laughed mysteriously at things I was missing).

Overall, I love seeing Veronica Mars be herself and Kristen Bell in particular in a roll that’s up to her ability as an actress. I liked seeing some of the other actors and their characters as well. I was more-or-less engaged in the plot and the murder mystery… more less so as the movie went on and on. The ultimate mystery reveal was clever enough in a “ok, whatever” kind of way. It didn’t seem to have a great deal of impact on the overall Veronica Mars world… it seemed low-key and low stakes… unless I was missing something. Which is possible.

Score: 77

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