March 15, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Film/VOD Review: “Veronica Mars”


VERONICA MARS:  Watch It At Home – Still a TV Show, For Better and Worse

It was probably impossible for the movie of VERONICA MARS to live up to the story of how it came to be made.  That’s an epic, decade-long saga, which began when the TV series, critically praised but never a ratings standout, and narrowly premature for the current era that prizes quality shows even in a small niche, was canceled after 3 seasons.  Series creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell fought on nevertheless, and after several false starts, raised millions of dollars from fans in a historic Kickstarter campaign that convinced Warners to put up the remaining costs and provide the film with some marketing support.  Even the circumstances of its release are unique:  it’s the first from a major studio to be simultaneously distributed both on VOD and in theatres, although in order to make that happen, Warners had to rent out the 291 cinemas where the film is being shown for a flat fee, because the major theatre chains see “day and date” theatrical/VOD release as a death knell for their industry.

After all that, it’s a little deflating to report that Veronica Mars the movie is little more than an extended TV episode, not that much different (except for a little basic-cable language) from the kind of nostalgic 10-year reunion TV movie that any number of series have had after they left the air.  (It’s considerably less ambitious than Serenity, the feature film that failed to restart the failed TV series Firefly.)  And in truth, the general standard of TV drama has risen so much over the past decade that Veronica, which seemed striking in 2004, isn’t nearly as notable today.  Still, what was exceptional about the series remains solidly enjoyable today.

And that is, in two words, Veronica herself.  Or to add three more:  Kristen Bell’s performance.  Veronica is a lovely creation, tart and sarcastic yet humane and smarter than any twelve people around her.  She never rose to the mythic heights of Buffy in pop culture consciousness, but she was and is a marvelous spin on the gumshoe template.  For Bell, it wasn’t just her big break, but remains the best part she’s ever had.  The movie picks up with her embarking on a new life in New York, with degrees in psychology and law and ready to take on her first adult job at a big firm.  Also, she’s officially a couple with Piz (Chris Lowell), the nice guy but not the heartthrob of the TV series–he now works for This American Life (complete with a cameo from Ira Glass).  Clearly, this orderly existence isn’t going to last.

Before long, Neptune, California, her home town, beckons, and so does the love of her TV-series life Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), who’s just been arrested for murder of his current rock-singer girlfriend, electrocuted in her bathtub.  Logan needs her help, and–hey!–it happens to be the weekend of her 10-year high school reunion, so off to Neptune Veronica goes.

All but the staunchest Mars fan would have to concede that while the show had many pleasures, its mystery plotting wasn’t often one of them, and the movie version, written by Thomas and fellow Mars writer/producer Diane Ruggiero, is no exception.  It’s a contrived concoction that all leads back to events years before, with suspects that all happen to be characters from the TV show and a fairly random solution.  There’s one major plot point in the last half-hour that nearly drags the story into outright farce, and far too many convenient twists needed to get Veronica on the right trail.

Along the way, the movie offers seemingly endless fanbait.  You don’t have to have watched the Veronica Mars series for the movie’s plot to make sense, but most of what goes by will mean little to newcomers, a parade of the old gang that includes appearances from Tina Majorino (Mac Mackenzie), Percy Daggs III (Wallace), Ryan Hansen (Dick Casablancas), and even supporting players like Krysten Ritter (Gia Goodman), Max Greenfield (Leo D’Amato), Ken Marino (Vinnie Van Lowe) and Duane Daniels (Principal Van Clemmons).  Jerry O’Connell and Gaby Hoffman are among the few familiar unfamiliar faces.  As it was on the show, the performer with the strongest impact is Enrico Colantoni as Veronica’s dad and private investigator mentor Keith, whose rapport with Bell is as strong as ever.  In case the It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World-strength cast line-up for acolytes weren’t enough, there are also in-jokes like nods to Kickstarter and to Thomas’s never-produced pitch for a rebooted TV series with Veronica as an FBI agent, and the appearance of Bell’s real-life husband Dax Shepard as a guy hitting on Veronica.

None of this is great filmmaking, and it feels overextended at 108 minutes (a 2-part TV episode would run 15 minutes shorter without commercials).  Although the movie looks sharp enough as photographed by Ben Kutchins, the low-end budget is sometimes apparent in some ragged editing and subpar post-synch sound recording.  Still, Veronica Mars was always worth rooting for, and this quasi-movie effort is no exception, a tribute to the true belief that its creators and fans always had in its survival.  For those who remember the series nostalgically, a VOD buy for less than the cost of a big-city movie ticket may well be worth the price.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."