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Movie Review: 'Veronica Mars' Starring Kristen Bell

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Veronica Mars


Be honest, the idea of a Veronica Mars movie is something you never thought would happen. The show was a lynchpin of the late UPN network (eventually part of CW in its final season) and it was a cult hit with a dedicated by tiny audience who loved their feisty teenaged detective, played by Kristen Bell in her defining role. When it ended after a sporadic third season, show runner Rob Thomas kept hope alive for a comeback, eventually turning to the fans to help Kickstart a big screen effort. And those fans responded in record-breaking numbers. But a crowd sourced project such as this comes with challenges, namely balancing the wants of the fans (who literally have an investment in it) with a story that doesn't simply tread old ground. Fortunately, Veronica Mars not only recaptures everything that made the series so beloved, but it may even create some new "marshmallows" in the process.

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A breezy two-minute intro recaps the series, told in Veronica's slangy vernacular. It's an effective reintroduction (or introduction for some) to the character and her various relationships built and destroyed over the years, particularly her rocky love affair with bad boy Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring). Picking up ten years after the series finale, Veronica has escaped the snake pit of upper-class Southern California town of Neptune and headed to New York to become a high-powered lawyer. She used to be one of Neptune's cool kids before her Sheriff father, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni) ran afoul of the town elite and got fired. He became a principled private investigator, Veronica became the Nancy Drew of Neptune, and neither won them a lot of friends. All these years later, she has no intention of ever coming home, not even for the 10-year high school reunion. But when she sees a report that Logan has been accused in the murder of his pop star girlfriend, Veronica is convinced to return and defend him.

Within minutes it's like nothing has changed, which is great for us fans but not so great for Veronica. Her mother was an alcoholic, and a recurring theme in the series was that of addiction. The film takes this idea and uses it as the primary framework for Veronica's every move. She's addicted to this life, the danger and excitement of it. When she calls herself an "adrenaline junkie" early on, we know it to be true even as she fights against backsliding into old habits. Speaking of which, one thing she simply can't quit is Logan, and the spark between them is obvious and palpable. That causes problems with her current boyfriend, the dull as dry toast good guy "Piz" (Chris Lowell), who is waiting for her back home. Veronica hooks back up with her best friends, Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (Tina Majorino), who also find themselves roped into her investigation.

It's impossible to carry over the subtleties of every relationship in a condensed 100-minute package, but Thomas does a pretty good job of giving them to us in broader strokes. We get a sense of the deep affection and playfulness between Veronica and her father, which continues to be the central bond in the story. The love triangle, such as it is, between Logan, Veronica, and Piz may seem a bit formulaic without the benefit of watching the show and knowing the complicated back story. In general it's like the show never went off the air and everybody is just picking up right where they left off. Pretty much every major character a loyal follower would want to see makes an appearance: Weevil (Francis Capra), Dick (Ryan Hansen), Gia (Krysten Ritter), Vinnie Van Lowe (Ken Marino), and they all have key parts to play. They aren't just there for the sentimental memories, although that may be a small part of it. It's kind of unavoidable with a film like this, really. New faces fit like a glove, with the best being Gaby Hoffmann in yet another wacko role as a suspect with an unhealthy Logan Echolls obsession.

As for the mystery itself, it suffers from the compressed time frame. Thomas is used to having full seasons to flesh out all of the key players, drop clues, toss in a few swerves. Here he's torn between servicing our need to see Veronica reconnect and properly clouding the question of Logan's innocence. Long stretches go by when the murder becomes an afterthought, and the lack of attention paid to it only underscores that it isn't really compelling, anyway.

Written by Thomas and Diane Ruggiero, the dialogue is as razor sharp and funny as ever. The characters have always sounded like they were ripped straight from the Whedon-verse, and sure enough there's a pretty hilarious Buffy reference thrown in for good measure. The best part about it is that Veronica remains one of the toughest, most original female lead characters in recent memory. As a feminist icon she stands as a shining example, and not having her on TV regularly has left a pretty big void yet to be filled. Hopefully the film does well enough that it this won't be the last we see of her, but just in case it is things are resolved neatly enough.

Cinematic fan-fiction for the show's most impassioned audience, Veronica Mars is everything fans could have hoped it would be. It's a film made for fans by fans, and that's something all us marshmallows can be extremely proud of.