Movie review: Veronica Mars

Veronica MarsIn theory, I suppose you could argue that director/co-writer Rob Thomas attempted to make Veronica Mars — the big-screen, Kickstarter-funded revival of his cult TV show — accessible to non-fans. There’s a nifty opening sequence where present-day Veronica (Kristen Bell) narrates the important parts of her life story overtop of images pulled straight from the series, which ran on UPN and The CW from 2004 to 2007. And the mystery that drives the plot of the film is entirely self-contained, even if it does utilize characters who appeared on the show back in the day.

Still, I don’t think I could bring myself to recommend Veronica Mars the movie to anyone who hasn’t seen Veronica Mars the series. It would be an easy enough film for newbies to follow but a very difficult one for them to feel. Nearly every character that Veronica comes in contact with as she attempts to prove her ex-boyfriend Logan didn’t murder his pop-star girlfriend is a carry-over from the show, and each little reunion only works as it should if you know these peoples’ histories going in.

Instead, I’d probably just yell at folks for never having watched the show. It debuted the year after Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended and immediately filled that void by being incredibly smart and funny, as well as by tackling the drama of high school through the filter of a specific genre. (Buffy used horror while Veronica used noir.) The cute, talented blonde at the center didn’t exactly dispute the comparison either. Veronica Mars ran for three seasons. The first was brilliant and remains one of the best single seasons of television I’ve ever seen. The second was quite good. The third moved Veronica to college, suffered from network-ordered meddling in an attempt to increase its audience and was mostly a disaster only partially redeemed by the fact that it featured characters the show’s fans already loved. Still, those first two seasons ensured the series’ legacy in people’s hearts.

I’m happy to say Veronica Mars the movie does that legacy proud. It would be tough to imagine any of the project’s 91,585 backers being disappointed with what Thomas and Bell have created with all that donated cash. The characters in Veronica Mars are older than we last saw them, but easily recognizable and no less entertaining. Setting the film around her high school class’s 10th anniversary reunion recalls the show’s season-one glory days, and while the film acknowledges season three (Piz is still around, as is his and Veronica’s sex tape), its tone — somehow both jaunty and noirish at the same time — recalls the show’s earlier, better days. The whodunit Veronica spends the film solving isn’t nearly as complex or intriguing as the mystery of who killed Lilly Kane — how could it be with only 107 minutes to work with instead of a whole television season? — but it does feel similar in nature to the season-long mysteries the show unraveled in its first two years. And Bell slides back into the role like it’s an old jacket that still fits perfectly and looks even cooler than you remember.

Thomas and his co-writer Diane Ruggiero pull off the clever balancing trick of meeting the needs of the different types of Veronica Mars fans out there. I loved the show for Bell’s spunky underdog heroine, the tender yet snarky relationship between Veronica and her father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni), and those red herring-heavy mysteries. I wouldn’t have minded one more great scene between father and daughter, but, otherwise, I was pleased with the movie. As, I assume, were the ‘shippers out there whose affection of the show stemmed entirely from the relationship between Veronica and Logan (Jason Dohring). Those two still have electric chemistry together, and the film spends the proper time — but not too much time — paying off unresolved feelings held by both the characters and a portion of the audience. On top of all of that, the film also┬ádives back into examining the American socioeconomic class system via the haves and have-nots of Neptune, a thread that ran heavy through the TV series.

I was a Veronica Mars Kickstarter contributor, and despite the fact that I could have streamed the movie at home this weekend, I went with my wife to see it at the theater, where I was surrounded by Veronica Mars fans. (The t-shirts that served as Kickstarter rewards were out in full force.) The resulting film was exactly what I hoped for when I donated a small bit of cash to the project last year and reminded me of everything I loved about the show in the first place. It created such an odd sensation watching it, like I stepped into a time machine that allowed me to visit with old friends who were supposed to be gone forever. The cynics will say you can put a exact dollar amount on that feeling — the $5.7 million raised through Kickstarter. But I’m going to just go ahead and call it priceless.