The amiable, highly enjoyable Veronica Mars offers as much as one can expect from a TV-show adaptation financed by $5.7 million in Kickstarter fan donations.
Available on video on demand today and opening in some theaters (nearest to Sacramento is the AMC Showplace Manteca; Folsoms Palladio Cinemas will open it March 28), Veronica brings back most of the gang from the 2004-07 UPN/CW show.
It presents and solves a mystery-of-the-movie as neatly as it did the series mysteries of the week. More important, it returns one-time teen detective Veronica (a stalwart Kristen Bell, still an actress to hang a series or a film on) to the orbit of her bad boy ex-boyfriend, Logan (Jason Dohring) after years apart.
The movie picks up nine years after the series ended. Veronica left Neptune, her gorgeous but seedy-underbellied Southern California beach hometown, after a year at Hearst, the local college. She went to Stanford, then law school. She lives in New York with nice guy Piz (the endlessly charming Chris Lowell), whom she met at Hearst.
Veronica is interviewing for a job at a fancy law firm, and avoiding Neptune Highs 10-year reunion, when she finds out Logan has been implicated in the murder of his pop-star girlfriend. And although Veronica has not spoken to Logan in nine years, his picture still pops up with his caller ID on her phone when he calls to ask for help.
Nine years. Veronica probably had to transfer his information to four or five different phones. You can guess how long it takes from the moment he calls until she flies to California.
Their reunion is just the start. Veronica bunks at the home of her beloved private-investigator dad, Keith (Enrico Colantoni), whos as witty and protective as ever. Veronicas devoted pals Wallace and Mac (Percy Daggs III and Tina Majorino, both still adorable) also remain in Neptune, working grownup jobs. Socialite Gia (a blithe Krysten Ritter) also figures in Veronicas current Neptune experience, in a less heartwarming way.
The film also introduces a new character, played by live wire Gaby Hoffman (Adams sister on Girls). Among a cast of actors with well-honed comic instincts, Hoffman shows the most flair.
The movies low budget does not allow for car-chase scenes or big special effects. Neither is missed, because the crime and its ostensible thriller elements are beside the point.
The key to making a low-budget film like this work is good dialogue, which series creator Rob Thomas (who also directed) and co-writer and fellow Veronica series veteran Diane Ruggiero have written.
Their dialogue is consistently funny but also natural, its references to the series and other pop-culture events chock-a-block yet never forced.
Veronica is still a class-A smart aleck, but her quips do not fall outside the range of real-person conversation. When she asks surfer/stoner Dick (an unperturbable Ryan Hansen), a former classmate at the center or on the edges of all her investigations, why he does not instinctively fear her now, it seems an obvious question.
Dohring brings the same deadpan understatement to Logan the privileged, misunderstood movie stars son here that he did to the series. Dohring always chose quiet disdain over sneering, even when Logan was a snob and a thug back at Neptune High. (A snob and thug who looked like a taller Dana Carvey, but Dohring pulled it off.)
Tragedy has followed Logan since his high school girlfriend and Veronicas best friend, Lilly (Amanda Seyfried, shown in brief flashback) was murdered in their teens. But he has become a respectable member of society. In what capacity I will not reveal so as not to pre-empt fan-girl (fan-woman?) screams when he appears.
Perhaps it was budget constraints that limited the series signature green-tinted, gauzy flashbacks to the first few minutes of this movie, in a recap for story newcomers. Whatever kept Thomas from using that device more often, I thank it. The fuzzy flashbacks made Veronica look too much like other over-stylized minor-network teen shows, when it was better than them. Even at its soapiest.
Veronica the movie looks crisp, just like the square-jawed Bell as she revisits one of the best teen characters in TV history: a girl who deeply felt the bad things that happened in her life (Lillys death, her alcoholic mothers abandonment) but did not sit around brooding.
She sought answers for herself, and for friends who sought out her junior-detective services. She fiercely loved the family she still had her dad. Bell memorably pierced Veronicas steely, self-protective reserve at moments when Veronicas dad was in danger.
Bell still covers Veronicas soft interior with a businesslike outer layer. But she now lets the interior show more often. As Veronica makes questionable decisions as the film progresses, Bell looks conflicted. Questionable decisions are part of being a teenager. At 28, theyre more like a character flaw.
Though it often carries a warm feel of celebration appropriate to a film made possible by fans, Veronica does not forget the series dark streak. In the movie, its more a Veronica-specific thread that has her questioning whether going back to Neptune is going backward in her life.
There should be a sequel to further explore this intriguing concept. Gather your pennies, Marshmallows.
Call The Bees Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.