My Uncle Stevie introduced me to the Veronica Mars television show. That’s the moniker that novelist Stephen King uses when he plays armchair pop culture critic. During his stint as a regular columnist with Entertainment Weekly, he recommended Veronica Mars as the best show on television that the public wasn’t watching. He was right, so I did, and I was grateful for the recommendation. After binge-watching Seasons 1 and 2, I became a weekly viewer in 2006 and 2007 for its third, and final, season.
During its days on the small screen, Veronica Mars was the story of a high school outsider whose father was once the local sheriff. After leaving office in disgrace, he opened a business as a private investigator, and his daughter assisted him part-time after school. Naturally when her friends were in trouble or needed to find important information, they called on Veronica (Kristen Bell) to take their case. The series was like a cross between Encyclopedia Brown and the Rockford Files.
Full of snarky teenaged quips and a total disregard for the establishment, Veronica navigated high school cliques and the local adult power structure to unmask criminals and rescue her fellow classmates from various brushes with disaster. On a personal level, she found herself embroiled in a love triangle, torn between local bad boy Logan Echolls and local rich boy Duncan Kane. Veteran actors like Kyle Secor, Harry Hamlin and Charisma Carpenter were interspersed with the hunky/hottie youngsters, and you had a television vehicle with multi-generational appeal. (Just not enough appeal to earn a fourth season.)
As the motion picture Veronica Mars opens, our title heroine is graduating from law school and interviewing with downtown New York law firms when she receives a call from her high school ex, Logan Echolls. He is the prime suspect in the electrocution death of his girlfriend and former high school classmate, pop diva Carrie Bishop. He needs Veronica’s help once again. And as fate would have it, our grown-up sleuth will arrive in town just in time for her 10th high school reunion. Too convenient? Don’t be such a killjoy. How else are they going to get the majority of the original cast together in a single film?
The scenes between Veronica and her father (Enrico Colantoni) immediately have that same familial vibe to them. Kristen Bell and Jason Dohring can still generate the romantic/sexual tension between their characters. Ryan Hansen is still a laugh riot as Dick Casablancas, professional surfer and slacker, and Ken Marino humorously steps back into the shoes of competing private eye Vinnie Van Lowe. Unfortunately, the remaining members of the cast are mostly minor walk-ons who are on hand primarily to serve as a pool of possible suspects for the murder of Carrie Bishop.
The well-rounded relationships that grew between the primary characters are what worked so well for Veronica Mars the series and, in turn, cause the motion picture to fall a little flat. Although the “Who Killed Lily Kane?” plotline from Season 1 created some real whodunit tension, the mystery of the week was always less interesting than the evolution of the core characters. By definition, it’s difficult for a 107-minute film to recapture the depth of the series.
One of the other appeals of Veronica Mars the series was its unusual pairing of the private eye genre with its 90210 California high school environment. Director/writer Rian Johnson gave audiences a grittier take on this concept when he super-imposed private eye tropes on teens who spouted hard-boiled dialogue in his brilliant film Brick. But Veronica Mars was always breezier. It had a heart for its characters, and that heart created a sense of nostalgia in its fans. Unfortunately, when you take the same characters and give them adult lives with children and careers, some of the magic gets lost in the translation.
After a fairly bland first half, Veronica Mars the film does generate a head of steam and finishes much stronger than it begins. There are some plot holes along the way, and the resolution of the central crime is a little rushed and a bit too neat. The ending suggests that a sequel could be forthcoming if this first installment sees any box office and VOD success. Any Veronica Mars fan will have to watch this film and judge for themselves. It mostly made me want to re-watch the original series.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.