by Philip Price
I've never seen an episode of “Veronica Mars” and thus had no interest in what answers this fan-funded feature might provide seven years after the three season show was abruptly cancelled. All I can equate this too is my love for “Arrested Development,” it’s too-soon cancellation after three seasons and my massive anticipation for the fourth when it was announced and rolled out on Netflix last year. If anything, I feel empathy towards the fans of “Veronica Mars” and find Kristen Bell a pleasant enough presence to take a peek into what all the fuss is about. It would be silly to think that starting from the end and working backwards would provide the same kind of reaction or emotional impact those who have been waiting for this will receive so it is with obvious warning that my opinion on the “Veronica Mars” movie is that of a person unacquainted with these characters and their past traits and relationship, their little quirks, their inside jokes or what makes some of the reunions at Veronica's 10 year high school reunion that much more special than others. All of that said, this was a serviceable enough film and it provides a nice bit of whodunit which I always enjoy, but I had to come away from it wondering if I, or anyone else for that matter, would be too impressed with it if it stood on its own. Now, facts are that this movie would have never been made if it had to stand on its own (literally, the fans of the series who were upset about the ending they got put up the cash for this to be made because no one else would), but still, like we take each episode of a TV series we have to take this on its own terms especially since it is operating in the arena of big screen entertainment rather than a weekly series. Rob Thomas, who created the show, writes and directs here and the most obvious thing about his care with this film are the characters themselves and preserving what they were and what they have become and for me that is what made this film something a little more than average, something slightly more intriguing than I expected that will have me streaming through these seasons whenever they become available and really allowing me to become a part of this world that has clearly always existed, but that I have never been a part of before. “Veronica Mars” may not exactly be grade-A cinema, but it is a fun, hard-hitting murder mystery that will seemingly satisfy those who've been waiting for it and introducing others to a welcome unknown.
The good news for those of us who have not been associated with the teenage private investigator prior to this film is that the opening gives us a quick recap of what are seemingly the events the shows three season run. I had to wonder if reducing the show to a couple of minutes was somewhat painful to see for Thomas and his ensemble, that this no doubt special time in each of these cast members lives was now either nothing at all to the latest generation or a quick montage of what was only to prelude the what is now, and if not as successful as they hope, will just become another entry to be forgotten. It was funny to feel such a connection, but as the graphics began to swirl and the titular characters name was set on the screen it was clear that there was a feeling of triumph in the air and that maybe the film would feel the same way and relate those feelings of overcoming the odds to the cult following that clearly care dearly for this show and these characters. From what I gather, Mars (Bell) became this teenage PI in the beach town of Neptune, Calif. after her best friend was killed when she was 15. This event spurning her into a life of solving mysteries and an on again off again relationship with her late friends boyfriend, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring). Veronica has since moved on and moved to New York City where she has just completed law school and is interviewing with the top law firms in the city while apparently rekindling her romance with college boyfriend Stosh 'Piz' Piznarski (Chris Lowell). This all seems to be settling in too nicely though and so it is no surprise when Logan comes a calling after being accused of murdering another girlfriend. This time it is old classmate turned pop sensation Bonnie DeVille. In asking for Veronica's help she flies back to her hometown and we get to sick back and experience her re-acclimating herself to what she was so sure she would be done with forever. We are introduced to friends Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Cindy 'Mac" Mackenzie (Tina Majorino) who are now a school teacher and the token computer wiz who now works at Kane Enterprises which is probably a reference I don't understand. There are others including Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen) and Weevil Navarro (Francis Capra) who seem to have had more to do on the show than they do here, but hey, it was good to see that kid from “Kazaam” getting some work.
It is all well and good to see these characters back together, more so for the fans of the show, but is clearly evident the chemistry the cast all share with one another as when their characters are reunited you can see the joy in the real life reunion that must have taken place behind the scenes shine through. Still, there is a "but" there and that is the fact there is still much at play here in terms of plotting. Again, not being aware of how the show worked and how things unfolded I can only imagine there were serious, season-long arcs for the mysteries Veronica had to solve and in going about that they would have to be broken up into focal sections and that, surprisingly, seems to work very well here. Veronica is juggling a lot, whether it be trying to figure out who killed Logan's girlfriend and the tension her spending so much time with Logan creates between her and Piz, there is also the looming need to get back to NYC for a job that she's been offered that would make her father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni) the proudest dad on earth, but who she feels she continually disappoints because of the unexplainable magnetism drawing her back to Neptune and the case surrounding Logan. Keith has no doubt seen Logan hold his daughter back one too many times and when she finally seems to have shaken the town and made it on her own, to become something greater than he could have hoped for her, Logan does it again and pulls Veronica back into her old ways. Chronicling the evolution of the investigation through these stages though gives Veronica enough time to spend with every aspect of her world that is constantly moving and shifting. We are given the time with her father as they exchange pleasantries in sarcastic tones with wit to spare and it is lovely to see an on-screen father/daughter relationship where there isn't some built-up tension or awkwardness between them and zero trace of hatred, but instead a true companionship and oath for justice that will always connect them and was born out of being abandoned by an alcoholic mother and wife. We are given the time with the friends at the high school reunion and the little moments long-time fans have no doubt craved, but this and the actual time spent with Logan trying to decipher what actually happened the night Bonnie DeVille died all contribute to the bigger narrative which, from a newbie's perspective, is handled expertly.
Once again, not being familiar with the show and the title character I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of performance from Bell, but she completely owns the role and carries the film with ease. Bell has always been an appealing actor with her spunky persona and take-no-crap attitude and it is likely a credit to this role that much of that reputation has been built as it was her original breakthrough, but as Veronica she is as confident as we'd want to see a young woman be represented on screen, but is also able to show the progression of someone finding themselves while also being intelligent enough to create opportunities so that when she finally reaches that fork in the road she won't necessarily have to make a choice because she is forced to, but the one she most desires. This brings us back around to the idea of the different responsibilities and identities she is juggling while ultimately all leading her to that aforementioned path where she feels like she meets the adult version of herself she has been looking for. She goes to college, she pursues the acceptable relationship and the well-received job but those things are going to ultimately result in a boring existence and it is impossible for Veronica to stay away from the pull of solving the mystery around crimes and the satisfaction that comes with digging to the bottom of it all. Despite the strong presence of Bell throughout there is also a surprisingly strong set of supporting actors that show up here as well. Though I didn't expect much seeing as I knew Bell anchored the series, but was likely the only name that made a career afterward I was pleasantly surprised by the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis, James Franco, Jerry O'Connell, Max Greenfield, Krysten Ritter, Martin Starr and Ken Marino (not to mention Justin Long and Dax Shepard in blink and you'll miss 'em cameos) pop up throughout. Starr wasn't immediately recognizable to me and I was surprised to find him in the type of role he plays here which I enjoyed seeing, but am unclear if he was in the show or not and if not it seems the only part of the story that feels forced. In the end though, “Veronica Mars” is a completely efficient production that is perfectly paced with a nicely designed mystery that you won't figure out and most importantly, leaves you feeling satisfied initiated or not.