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Review: Veronica Mars (2014)

Veronica Mars (2014)

Directed by: Rob Thomas

Premise: A feature length version of the television show. Picking up years after the show ended, Veronica Mars (Kristin Bell) returns to her home town and gets involved in a murder mystery.

What Works: There was once a popular trend in television sitcoms in which the cast would reconvene years after the program had been cancelled. In these special one-shot reunion episodes, the cast would reprise their roles and the story would often fill in what these characters had been up to since the series ended. The Veronica Mars movie does just that. As the film begins, the title character has left her hometown to pursue a career in law and is on the cusp of beginning her first job when her former flame is accused of murder. Veronica returns to her hometown and reacquaints herself with the familiar personalities of the series. That structure is smart because it allows the filmmakers to put the main character in the same position as the fans, revisiting the people, places, and situations they enjoyed on the show. The Veronica Mars television series made a star out of actress Kristin Bell and she does well in this role. Bell is a confident and funny screen presence and she delivers the snarky dialogue well. The film also includes a number of celebrity cameos including Ira Glass, Dax Shepard, and James Franco and these are used effectively. Cameos can sometimes be distracting but here they are used in the right proportion.

What Doesn’t: The Veronica Mars movie was clearly designed for the fans of the show, as it was financed by a popular Kickstarter campaign, and it treats the fans to a sampler of the characters and styles that they enjoyed about the series. However, it caters so much to the fans that its pandering comes at the exclusion of anyone who is unfamiliar with the television program. Watching the Veronica Mars movie is much like coming into the series in the middle of a season and only viewers who were severely invested in the show are going to get anything out of this picture. There is no attempt to introduce these characters in the way that feature films ought to do and their histories and relationships are left unexplained. The Veronica Mars movie also does not really look like a piece of cinema. It looks like a television show and at no point does it feel worthy of being regarded as a feature film. The movie has the same televisual camera style and equivalent production values and it frequently looks cheap. It also suffers from the restraint of television and in that respect the film comes across as a missed opportunity. The primary audience for this picture is made of the fans of the show, which went off the air in 2007. Anyone who was a fan of that program is likely to be grown up by now and Kristin Bell has established herself as an actress in R-rated fare so the filmmakers could afford to take a harder edge. They don’t do that and so in addition to looking cheap the movie is also creatively compromised. Another failing of the film’s televisual style is its characters. Everyone speaks like they are imitating the way people talk on a television show and for characters that are supposed to be coping with a murder no one possesses any sense of grief or urgency. The other major problem of the Veronica Mars movie is its mystery. The plot comes across like several television episodes that have been lumped together. The picture displays an awful lot of padding as tangential characters and conflicts are introduced but never developed or resolved. Only in the last half hour is the movie in true detective mode and the way in which the truth of the mystery is finally revealed is ludicrous.

Bottom Line: Veronica Mars the movie might have been better as a television special than as a feature film. It may appease fans that have missed the show since its end but the numerous problems with its production values and its script results in a movie that wasn’t ready for primetime, much less the multiplex.

Episode: #483 (March 23, 2014)