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Veronica Mars

Movie Information

The Story: Big screen follow-up (seven years later) to the cult TV series. The Lowdown: Despite hints of something greater and an engaging performance by Kristen Bell, this is really for fans of the show. Otherwise, it's strictly OK.
Score:

Genre: Comedy Mystery
Director: Rob Thomas
Starring: Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Chris Lowell, Percy Daggs III, Tina Majorino
Rated: PG-13

Note: this only playing through Thursday I’m afraid I’m on the outside looking in with the big screen incarnation of Veronica Mars. I have never seen the TV show and was really only dimly aware of its existence. I had concluded it was a kind of modern-day Nancy Drew thing — only more sophisticated and with extra grit — and based on the movie that seems to be pretty much the case. (I am not saying that as a negative thing. I like the Nancy Drew books just fine in their original editions.) I appreciate the fact that the filmmakers here managed to create a story involving the Veronica Mars characters that was reasonably comprehensible — as a fairly tepid mystery — to an outsider like myself. But let’s be honest, this movie is for the fans. Sure, I was able to fill in most of the blanks concerning the relationships among the various characters, but was I ever emotionally invested in them? Not really. It may not have helped that — apart from Kristen Bell, a guest bit by Jamie Lee Curtis and a cameo by Dax Shepard — I had no clue who any of the actors were. My guess is that if you’re a fan of the series, the experience may be considerably richer.

The premise of the film is that Veronica Mars (Bell) has put her teen sleuthing past and the town of Neptune, California behind her. She’s gotten herself a law degree and is all set to join a high-toned New York law firm. She’s also engaged to a nicely drab (of course) guy named Stosh “Piz” Piznarski (Chris Lowell). (What are the chances of our heroine actually marrying a guy called “Piz?”) All this gets knocked for your proverbial loop when an old high school friend is murdered, and Veronica’s sometime-boyfriend, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), is the major suspect. The idea is that she’ll fly out to Neptune, pull Logan’s fat out of the fire and quickly return to her new, saner life in New York. If you’ve seen more than five movies, you know how this is going to play out. The question is how much fun you will — or won’t — have watching it happen.

This is where the familiarity factor really kicks in. If you don’t know these characters already, you’re not likely to care very much about what happens. Even when you can figure out things like old grudges from the context, it’s hard to be very invested in them. It’s like being the lone outsider at a party where everybody else is swapping in-jokes and trading barbs. Even if you can figure out the gist of it, it’s not very fulfilling. If the movie had any real surprises in it, it might be different. If it had any real sense of style, it might be different, too. But this is TV-show basics. A coating of wide-screen cinematography and a big screen don’t change that.

The unfortunate thing is that the film hints at a true hard-boiled, detective-fiction drive, and at least some of this appears to have been inherent in the show. Veronica might well be a lightweight, distant relative of Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op in the 1929 novel, Red Harvest, with the corrupt town of Neptune standing in for the book’s Personville. (Think of the town in the 1990 Coen Brothers’ film Miller’s Crossing.) Of course, Veronica Mars is set in the present, and the corruption is of a different kind. Now, it’s more about a crooked police department taking care of the town’s rich folks at the expense of everyone else. The film doesn’t take this idea very far, and it only hints at the “one percent” factor, but it’s there. It makes the film more interesting, but only just. Really, if you’re not hooked on the series, there’s not that much here. Rated PG-13 for sexuality including references, drug content, violence and some strong language.

Playing at Carolina Cinemas

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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