Monday, March 17, 2014

Kicking it To "Mars"

So the long-awaited "Veronica Mars" movie finally appeared in theaters and online this weekend, to the delight of "Mars" fans everywhere, and to the fascination of industry watchers curious to see what a Kickstarter-funded movie was capable of. "Veronica Mars" is not destined to be a blockbuster hit, being far too much of a love letter to its existing fanbase to be very accessible to new viewers unfamiliar with the former teen-detective television show.

After a quick exposition dump to fill in for any brave newbies what the premise of "Veronica Mars" is, we learn that Veronica (Kristen Bell) is living in New York, fresh out of law school, and on the verge of landing a lucrative job with a prominent law firm. She's in a steady relationship with college boyfriend Piz (Chris Lowell), and steadfastly refusing to acknowledge her upcoming ten-year high school reunion. Then she gets the fateful phone call from her high school bad boy ex, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), who has been accused of murdering his high profile pop star girlfriend. Veronica heads back to the sunny, corrupt town of Neptune, California to help save Logan's skin, reconnect with old friends, and get herself thoroughly tangled up in a big mystery once more.

As a fan of the show, the "Veronica Mars" movie gave me exactly what I wanted. There's lots of snarky banter, updates on the lives of all the familiar characters, Veronica getting her sleuth on again, and some pretty big questions about her future that get definitive answers. I didn't mind the fact that the whole thing felt more like one of those old reunion TV movies that they used to do for shows like "The Brady Bunch," or the pilot for a new "Veronica Mars" series than a proper stand-alone movie. And I didn't mind that it was clearly made on the cheap with very TV quality production values, with a soundtrack full of indie acts that seem to have been chosen by lottery. It felt like we were comfortably back in the universe created by Rob Thomas, even if Veronica could throw out a few unbleeped expletives now.

What did concern me was the parade of cameos. At times it felt like every minor recurring character whose actor was willing to return was shoehorned into the story somewhere. I understand why time was devoted to Veronica's besties Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (Tina Majorino), and sometimes ally Weevil (Francis Capra), but did we need to check in with the high school principal (Duane Daniels)? Or Veronica's long-ago crush, Deputy Leo (Max Greenfield)? And that's not even getting to the actual celebrities who make appearances, whose identities I won't spoil here. At certain points the movie feels like a game of spotting the famous and familiar faces, and it gets pretty distracting. Oh, and there are in-jokes galore for fans to catch and for newbies to feel self-conscious about not getting.

Fortunately there is a strong story to keep the whole thing together, and Veronica is still as fun and watchable a heroine as ever, who works fine on the big screen. The case has some good twists, landing Veronica in serious peril. The sheriff's department of Neptune has gotten even more corrupt since we saw it last, making it even harder for Veronica to conduct her investigation. The Veronica-Logan-Piz love triangle is inevitable, of course. The major conflict of the film, however, is actually the question of what Veronica wants to do with her future. If you were left unsatisfied, as I was, with how the ending of the television series played out, and where we left Veronica Mars as a character, the movie does a great job of giving us some resolution as she confronts some demons and gets her priorities in order.

Veronica remains one of the best female characters to come out of TV in the past generation, and I'd love to see "Veronica Mars" get a sequel, either on film or on television. Heck, I'd settle for that rumored spinoff series featuring Ryan Hansen as the doofusy surfer bro Dick Casablancas, who is deployed as much-needed comic relief throughout the film. Or one for the movie's MVP, Enrico Colantoni, as Veronica's father Keith Mars. If there's any character who I wanted to see more of in the "Veronica Mars" movie, it was him.

There's been a lot of drama around the film because of the Kickstarter campaign, but I can't imagine that many of the backers could be too upset with the film itself, which is absolutely made for them. And while I don't have a non-fan perspective, I think that the film is a good enough watch on it's own to potentially hook a few viewers who were unfamiliar with the "Veronica Mars" series. I don't know if Kickstarter is a good option for many cancelled shows, but I'm happy with the results here.

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