A long time ago, I used to be a fan of a show called Veronica Mars. Ten years later, it’s the darling success story of Kickstarter raising more than five million dollars for a feature length film version. This presents a dilemma—while thousands of fans certainly care, should anyone else?
Veronica Mars began life as a TV show about a teenage detective. That titular detective, played by the charming and comedy chop baring Kristen Bell, returns now as a newly minted lawyer descending back upon her hometown of Neptune, California. There, her ex-boyfriend Logan Echolls has been charged with murder. It just so happens that his murder charge coincides with their ten-year high school reunion. Oh, and the murder victim and suspects also so happen to be members of their high school alumni association.
If that all sounds a bit contrived, I didn’t mention she returns home from her current boyfriend who used to be a rival for her affections with the ex-boyfriend. Also, there’s a corrupt police department running Neptune these days, which just so happens to be the same police department that ran her Veronica’s dad out as the former sheriff. Got all of that? There are other convoluted details involving a motorcycle gang, its former leader, a run in with a divorced socialite, and more. The problem is that all of this plays out on screen at best as fan-service, but at worst as fan-fiction.
Fan-service (let’s give the benefit of the doubt here) plays out well in a series that’s approaching its series finale, and in some ways that’s just what this film is—a proper series finale. The original series was cancelled before its time and without a proper finale. There was an attempt to reboot the series following Veronica at the FBI academy (and a nice inside nod in this film to that failed attempt), but nothing ever materialized. Instead, series creator Rob Thomas eventually went to Kickstarter asking fans to fund this film. They did, and Thomas seems beholden to offer them as much fan-service via cameos and inside references as possible.
Again, that might work fine for a TV series taking a victory lap. However, this is supposed to be a film, and it never rises above TV movie material. The plot, minus its contrivances, is a fine little mystery, but the entire thing is shot like an extended episode of the series. Director Rob Thomas is inexperienced and it shows here. The final confrontation should be more tension inducing, but as is it feels more than a bit anti-climatic.
Still, as noted, Bell is wonderful here. She should be headlining more comedies. Enrico Colantoni is also superb as her father. While on screen together, the two really raise the caliber of the entire production. Their banter shines and makes you wish this were more a father-daughter mystery team. Is that enough to recommend this film? Not to non-fans. They’ll be lost with the constant winking to the audience. Fans, however, will get exactly what they probably wanted. I actually count myself among the marshmallows. So while I can recommend it as fan-service, I can’t really recommend it as a movie.