In the arena of moviemaking, the “Veronica Mars” film is something of a game-changer with it being the first feature-length film to be funded by Kickstarter. Less than a day after it went live, the page for the cult television series follow-up had met it’s goal of $2 million and eventually nearly tripled that number by the time production went underway. Now almost a year later, the film has made it to a limited number of theater screens alongside video-on-demand outlets for those who would prefer to watch at home. Those are the facts of the case. Looking at the film on its own terms is a whole other matter.
As her 10-year high school reunion approaches, Veronica Mars is in no hurry to return to her California hometown of Neptune as she gets ready to take an attorney job in New York City. She wants nothing to do with the place, and seems to be happy living with college boyfriend Piz. But trouble comes a calling when her old flame Logan is accused of murdering his singer girlfriend, and Veronica is pulled back into the seedy world of Neptune.
What’s most apparent from the start of “Veronica Mars,” after a quick recap of the basic story beats from the show, is that Kristen Bell’s talents have been totally under-served in the years since the show ended. Returning to the character that made her famous does wonders to show off her range as she effortlessly balances sarcastic wit with more dramatic situations. Underneath her miniature stature and good looks is a force of will ready to bring the claws out if necessary.
Seemingly everyone with a major role on the show returns here also, with some exceptions. Enrico Colantoni provides further proof of the unbreakably heartfelt bond between Keith Mars and his daughter, while Ryan Hansen’s Dick Casablancas is often around the corner to provide a good laugh. Given the story, Jason Dohring expectedly gets the most to do of the supporting cast. Logan has always been an enigma, someone who has a short fuse and keeps his motives close to the chest, and Dohring’s internalized performance holds that cloud of mystery.
It’s a shame that the actual mystery doesn’t carry the same weight. Series creator Rob Thomas and frequent writing partner Diane Ruggiero can spin a good yarn as it moves along, punched up by their snappy dialogue. However, the seams begin showing as Thomas indulges in character cameos, with the most egregious being a subplot for Weevil that is simultaneously rushed and awkwardly scotch-taped into the film to leave threads dangling for a sequel.
Giving old favorites their due is fun and all until it begins to get in the way of the important stuff, leaving the mystery resolution flat even as it serves up a tensely directed final encounter. More interesting is how the film handles Veronica’s character arc and how that fits into her larger story. As a narrative that takes place nearly a decade after the show ended, the film ends up feeling more like a return to the status quo than it does a full-on advancement.
However, a big part of Veronica is her addictive personality, always needing to scratch that itch fed by helping people out with their problems. Even when her actions turn self-destructive there’s an innate compulsion to dive back into a hairy position. The “Veronica Mars” movie generally feels like it’s dealing with a similar problem as it serves the fan desires that pushed forth its creation. Sometimes what a fan needs is more important than what they want, and Thomas often finds himself favoring the latter.