Film Review: Veronica Mars

Teen sleuth Veronica Mars returns in a good-natured movie that feels like one elaborate, protracted TV episode.

Thanks to Kickstarter, which raised $5.7 million, the cult girl-detective TV show “Veronica Mars,” which closed shop in 2007, is back—this time on the big screen. The film catches up nine years later, with an older, wiser and even sassier Veronica (Kristin Bell) returning home from New York, where she has been interviewing at law firms, to Neptune, California, to solve the murder of her classmate who became a pop star, Bonnie DeVille (Andrea Estella).

Veronica's ex, Logan (Jason Dohring), was Bonnie's lover, and therefore a prime suspect, which she must somehow suss out. All of this coincides with Veronica's ten-year high-school reunion, which brings her whole familiar gang around: Mac (Tina Majorino), Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Dick (Ryan Hansen), who lives up to his name, a sexy surfer jerk and roommate of Logan's, forever crossing swords with Veronica.

Writer-director Rob Thomas, who created the series, starts things off with a breathless introductory montage which will bring Veronica-neophytes up to speed and refresh the memories of the faithful as to characters, location and telling past incidents. Indeed, the film has something of a high-school reunion feel to it in itself, with all these faces from the not-so distant but definite past grinningly themselves. The generated good makes you smile, but is eventually sorely tested by the machinations of a none-too-involving murder plot. The mechanical feel of it, plus the need to include so many identifiable characters—even in virtual cameos—unfortunately has the effect of making Veronica Mars not a film at all, but, yes, a quite protracted TV episode.

Although written in the flashiest and most glib commercial style imaginable, too many of the would-be hilarious lines fall rather thuddingly, which is one thing on the small screen but somewhat more resounding on the large one. Besides the labyrinthine details of murder-solving, there are just too many scripted, cursory check points: the corrupt and totalitarian local police force; Veronica's loving yet embattled relationship with her private investigator dad (Enrico Colantoni), as well as that with her good-guy boyfriend, Piz (Chris Lowell); the bitchiness of her richer former classmates, etc. 

The faithful will doubtlessly remain enthralled, while the not-so-interested can just chalk this up as the perfect, summery mall-date movie, with all the good and bad that entails. Bell is as perky, smart and ingratiating as ever, and her scenes with Colantoni do have some nice father-daughter depth. Echt-California boy Hansen, his wet suit always at half-mast, is the funniest performer in the cast, while Dohring and Lowell do their best to embody the flip sides of main-man squeeze-ability—i.e., good bad boy/good boy. Gaby Hoffmann typically enjoys being eccentric, this time as a psychotic groupie, forever mourning DeVille, and Jerry O'Connell again goes corruptly doofus as Sherriff Don Lamb. Cameos by TMZ's diabolical Harvey Levin, Ira Glass and the ubiquitous James Franco also get stirred into this ultimate SoCal bouillabaisse.