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Rated 3.03 stars
by 243 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
More TV Mystery than Compelling Film
by Frank Wilkins

First, a disclaimer and a bit of a confession. Because I never watched a single episode of the Veronica Mars television series which aired on various networks from 2004 to 2007, it’s probably only fair to inform you that the following discussion will be limited to the merits of the film as a stand-alone piece of work rather than a pre-ordained shrine devoted to the thousands of diehard marshmallows who saw their deity reach an untimely demise back in 2007 after just three seasons.

There are 91,585 fans of the show -- affectionately known as marshmallows -- who turned their passion for the television series into action when they donated more than $5 million via a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign to get the Doogie Howser of teen sleuthing, Veronica Mars, and her pals to the big screen.

It’s actually quite intriguing to know that movie development possibilities exist outside the studio system these days, but it’s equally disheartening to find out that those loyal fans aren’t being greatly rewarded for all those years of long-suffering loyalty with anything more than what they already had in their heads.

And for the uninitiated, such as myself, hopes for that “so, this is what I’ve been missing” moment will be dashed, because Veronica Mars the movie feels like nothing more than an extended episode of a murder mystery of the week TV special. Sure, it’s a sweetly satisfying, predictable little mystery tale that will certainly find some fanboy satisfaction, but it’s not compelling enough, nor does it explore enough new ground to convert newbies.

The film opens with an introductory montage that works as a recap to bring everyone up to speed. Thank you. Veronica Mars (Kristin Bell), the poster child for high school misfits, tells us how she came to be a private investigator at the early age of 15 while poking into the details of her murdered best friend, Lily Kane. It was her way of dealing with the emotional pain of having lost a loved one while growing up in the economically divided town of Neptune California.

We pick up nine years later when Veronica has landed on her feet, left her long-term boyfriend behind in Neptune, and is now living in New York City, having just obtained her law degree. As soon as she accept a job offer at a prestigious New York law firm, Veronica receives a phone call telling her that former classmate and now-famous pop singer Bonnie DeVille has been murdered and Bonnie’s boyfriend, Logan (Jason Dohring) is accused of killing her. Veronica quickly agrees to fly out to Neptune to help her former “frenemy" find a good attorney. If it all feels a bit too “WB,” that’s because it originally aired on UPN and The CW which, like The WB, have never been in the running to air Downton Abbey.

As indicated by cheers in the audience, there’s a lot of satisfaction enjoyed by the show’s hungry fans as they finally get to see their old friends again. Almost all the original actors reprise their roles. We see Krysten Ritter return as Gia, Chris Lowell as Piz, and even Francis Capra comes back as Weevil, although he’s since turned in his gang stripes. Even show creator Rob Thomas returns to write and direct the new story for the big screen.

Though using a high school reunion as a device to sequentially roll out the cast of old characters one after another would normally be considered a cheap cinematic device, lest we forget this is Veronica Mars where whatever was good for TV will certainly work for a legion of starving sympathizers. At her 10th high school reunion things get really sweaty when Veronica discovers that Susan, a friend of Bonnie’s who also died several years earlier, was last seen during a night of heavy drinking on a boat with Gia and Luke (Sam Huntington). All we need now is for the cops to remove the killer’s mask.

It wouldn’t be totally fair and honest to neglect the things Thomas does get right. He clearly knows how to write an interesting murder mystery with classic whodunnit clues and an intricate plot peppered with smart, quippy dialogue -- all of which make for an entertaining puzzle. Plus, his use of shadowy lighting and Mike Hammer narration bring a sophisticated, noir-ish feel to the proceedings.

But unfortunately, that’s not enough for this thriller to reach beyond its core fan base and find a new audience to fund the sequel that was clearly set up by the film’s ending. So, the question now becomes, does Veronica Mars do enough to encourage those same 91,585 marshmallows to pony up another $5 million to do this again? Don’t count on it.

(Released by Warner Bros. and rated “PG-13” for sexuality including references, drug content, violence and some strong language.)

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