My wife and I were impressed by the first two seasons of Veronica Mars and jilted into a mutual depression spiral by season three. When creator/writer/director Rob Thomas launched the famous Kickstarter project to bring back the infamous detective for an unlikely feature film, I had mixed emotions. Surprise that yet another well-written but mercilessly treated series was taking the Firefly route to a post-cancellation revival. Disappointment that the campaign occurred during my still-in-effect Kickstarter moratorium and would therefore receive no pre-production dollars from me, through no fault of its own. Good cheer when the campaign succeeded without me. Skepticism at some of the clunky lines in the trailer. A tinge of geek entitlement because someone still owed me reparations for season three.
Unlike five other Kickstarter campaigns that have yet to keep their promises to me, the Veronica Mars project has borne fruit within a month of its original stated deadline, resulting in a finished product that opened in nearly 300 theaters this past weekend and is simultaneously available for rental via Google Play. At last the lingering question was answered: did anything positive ever happen in Veronica’s life again after that dreary series finale?
Short version for the unfamiliar: Nine years after her entire life turned into a great big basket of unsqueezable lemons, Our Heroine is enjoying east-coast life with her boyfriend Piz (Chris Lowell!) and the prospects of a fancy new job made possible by the degrees she obtained after she escaped the black-hole gravitation of her hometown of Neptune, CA. Though she’s abstained from the sweet siren song of private detective work ever since, she’s predictably lured back to her old habits and home when her ex-boyfriend Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring!) is accused of murdering his rock-star girlfriend. Can these three get to the heart of the matter and escape that dreaded love-triangle nonsense that refuses to go away?
Plenty of old friends, enemies, and acquaintances have returned for the ride: dear old dad Keith (Enrico Colantoni!), former best bud Wallace (Percy Daggs III!), hacker pal Mac (Tina Majorino!), lecherous dudebro Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen!), and ex-biker gangster Weevil (Francis Capra!) all remain in Veronica’s corner. A host of other characters from past episodes — some easy to remember, some requiring a look-up — remain in orbit around Neptune. A few have changed; most remain the same. At least one of them may now be a murderer.
Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: Several actors from past episodes have much busier careers now, but reprise their roles anyway, including Max Greenfield (New Girl), Sam Huntington (Syfy’s Being Human), Krysten Ritter (Don’t Trust the B___ in Apartment 23), and — an old personal favorite — Ken Marino (Childrens Hospital) as Vinnie Van Lowe, Neptune’s scuzziest detective. VM obsessives should recognize other returning characters such as too-too-quiet Deputy Sachs; mean-girl Madison, who hasn’t matured one whit since prom ended; Keith’s snarky attorney Cliff; and a few obscure surprises.
New but recognizable faces in this world include Jerry O’Connell as the brother of the late Sheriff Lamb, who’s somehow attained the position even though poor Sachs was there years ahead of him; Jamie Lee Curtis as Veronica’s new boss; Eddie Jemison (Ocean’s Eleven) as a rejected attorney; Martin Starr (Adventureland) as an old classmate we never met; and Dax Shepard (Parenthood) in a single punchline scene. Best of Show is a hilarious cameo by a Famous Hollywood Actor appearing as himself and providing key information at a particularly crucial juncture while working on his poetry.
Nitpicking? Sincere but important question: does the average tablet owner always leave their tablet powered on and standing vertically when not in use? I don’t own one, so I wouldn’t know. This seems a weird behavior to me, but the movie swears everyone does it.
Speaking of swearing: now that we’re on the PG-13 beach instead of in TV-14 labor camp, Veronica and her pals just couldn’t wait to pepper S-words everywhere and use up their single F-bomb allotment (on an unfunny moment, at that). Whenever longtime TV characters begin swearing like sailors, the dialogue never sounds right to my ears. Imagine if you watched a Humphrey Bogart film and he began using words like “whatevs” and “ell-oh-ell”. It’s a disorienting distraction.
I’m also curious as to why this was filmed in extra-widescreen. The few action scenes don’t take advantage of it. Not much felt composed for it. All the visuals felt like an ordinary TV show to me except the aspect ratio. I hope that kind of lens didn’t cost extra.
Meaning or EXPLOSIONS? Veronica’s penchant for P.I. shenanigans is initially approached as, and frequently compared to, a substance-abuse problem. When someone’s been falsely accused and the clues start piling up, she can’t help that she’s a mysteryholic. Logan’s case naturally lures her off the wagon and leaves her fiending for more mysteryhol. For a while it’s an interesting look at adrenalin-junkie tendencies as a form of self-destructive behavior. About half an hour before the end, the movie stops caring, remembers this is supposed to be for the fans, and stops guilt-tripping her about her backsliding.
One has to wonder how many plot elements were intended as parallels to the Kickstarter campaign itself (not including one quick, heavily-lidded-winking Kickstarter joke). Veronica has established herself a better life, but her old friends keep trying to drag her back. The murder coincides with her ten-year class reunion, which she vowed never to attend, and yet she does anyway because everyone else drags her into it. Should I be seeing a parallel between those regressive events and seeing the star of Disney’s Frozen returning to the gig she outgrew years ago? Or am I reading too far in?
So did I like it or not? Much of the old wit is still there, despite the occasional clunker. Seeing our old friends again was nice in a nostalgic sort of way. The fact that a sequel to a poorly rated TV show exists solely because the fans demanded it is an indisputably inspirational story in itself.
(Perhaps it’s too inspirational, in a way. If you thought some fans of canceled shows were intense before, now they’re all hoping — nay, expecting — that every intellectual property they ever loved shall be revived and reanimated for their pleasure into perpetuity. It’s become my opinion in recent years that it’s perfectly okay for some stories and universes to stay dead, especially when their principals have moved on to bigger parts and careers. But I seem to be alone in this.)
Ultimately, Veronica Mars isn’t a normal, standalone movie for any passing moviegoer. The one-minute three-season recap is a blur, and several characters aren’t afforded enough scenes to prove why they used to matter. The murder is perfunctory and nearly beside the point. I can’t imagine new viewers getting anything out of this. As I recall, Serenity had some issues in this area, too.
That’s not really the intent here anyway. This exists and functions only as a dream-come-true reunion and thank-you card to the old viewers — in some cases literally giving the fan majority exactly what they want to see in their Happily Ever After. Even if the characters have to make stupid choices to accomplish it. Even if it means tossing out what, in an ordinary life, would’ve been ten years of maturing, growing, and accumulating new experiences that would’ve shaped them into adults who didn’t closely resemble their eleventh-grade selves. Apparently the fans want grade eleven, so they get grade eleven.
At the reunion, Veronica mocks mean-girl Madison for living the cliché of the prom queen who wishes high school never ended. Based on my experience, prom queens aren’t the only students prone to wallowing in the past. Despite all her education and bluster, Veronica ultimately doesn’t succeed at adulthood any better than Madison does. Though it could be argued that her contrary choices are in keeping with her volatile nature, I stopped feeling sympathetic for her while watching her screw up her life the second time around. “A long time ago, we used to be friends,” indeed.
How about those end credits? Yes, there is indeed a scene during the Veronica Mars end credits, along with yet another treat for hardcore fans buried closer to the end. For those who fled the theater or paused their Google Play rental prematurely, and really want to know without paying for it twice…
[insert space for courtesy spoiler alert in case anyone needs to abandon ship]
The one scene: Famous Hollywood Actor once again — still penned up in his trailer and searching for the perfect rhyme for “orange”.
The other bit: a new inspirational answering machine message from Logan Echolls. I can’t believe I’d forgotten about those.