Review: 'Veronica Mars'

Trying to review "Veronica Mars" as a stand-alone movie is nearly impossible for those of us who have seen the series, in a way that's different from other properties which have jumped between TV and film. Beyond sharing the same cast, characters, writers, and director, "Veronica Mars" the movie would not actually exist without the support of its fans and the dogged determination of series creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell. Thomas, who co-wrote and directed the film, and Bell, who spearheaded the effort to bring "Mars" to the big screen, raised over $5.7M on Kickstarter to help convince "Veronica Mars" owner Warner Bros. that it might be worth allowing them a crack at a film adaptation. The financial mumbo-jumbo shouldn't speak to the final product, but it does, in more ways than one.

There's no doubt that Thomas and the "Mars" cast and crew returned to Neptune all these years later because of a deep, abiding love for the series and its characters. However, it's that same love and loyalty that keeps "Veronica Mars" the movie from feeling like anything more than a 107-minute long episode of the show, at best. The movie comes off like a sitcom pitch, a way to show networks or Netflix that a grown-up Veronica Mars deserves a shot at a series. It would be a real shame if this didn't get picked up as a series, but that doesn't mean it's a particularly great movie by itself. I'd be hard-pressed to know if people who had never seen a single episode would understand or care about what's happening in the movie, but for someone who enjoys the show, there's something terribly, wonderfully indulgent about it.

I'm not even that big of a fan of the series. I watched the first season and a few episodes of the second as research for this review, but I can absolutely understand why fans are crazy about Veronica and why they're so eager to see how everything's turned out. It's so much fun to see Veronica all grown up, having traded in her chunky boots and cords for a classy business suit and law degree. There are lots of in-jokes for Mars fans, like when a busker on the street plays a cover of the show's theme song, "We Used to Be Friends" by The Dandy Warhols, or when one of the characters alludes to a rumor that Veronica had joined the FBI. There's something that feels so good and familiar about checking in with characters like flirty Deputy Leo D'Amato (Max Greenfield), bad boy turned family man Weevil (Francis Capra), and, of course, Veronica's troubled ex-boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring). The winks and nods to fans are deliciously satisfying.

Ideally, though, a movie should have a larger purpose than simply fulfilling the wishes of fans to ship their favorite characters all over again. What was particularly satisfying about "Veronica Mars" the series wasn't just the one mystery she'd solve each episode but the larger one at the heart of each season that would slowly be unraveled over the course of 22 (!) episodes. A movie requires an entirely different sort of pacing, so tasking Veronica with solving a crime, reuniting with old friends, figuring out her romantic problems, and embarking on a new chapter in her life all in less than two hours is overwhelming.

There are other, more distinct problems with "Veronica Mars." There's too much exposition, even with the added-on intro that zips through Veronica's history with the main characters. What comes across as an enjoyable drama in one-hour bites becomes less tolerable and histrionic drawn out into the length of a movie. Logan's accused of murdering his rock star girlfriend, and the long-simmering class and race tensions in Neptune are coming to a head, and there's something shifty going on with the police, and Veronica has to commit to a new career, and Piz is stressing out because she has to meet his parents, etc., etc., etc. Then there's the simple fact that some of "Veronica Mars" looks cheaply and quickly made. Yes, it was cheaply and quickly made, but there are some shots that are so dark and muddled that I was left to wonder if they didn't have the budget for proper lighting that day. We've been spoiled by HBO shows like "Game of Thrones," "Boardwalk Empire," and "True Detective," which spend millions per episode, but you can find plenty of indies on the festival circuit that don't have the same budget or star power as "Mars" but look just as good, if not better.

"Veronica Mars" will definitely please the fans desperate to catch up with the residents of Neptune, but I feel certain it won't sate us for long.

SCORES: 8 / 10 For Fans, 6 / 10 For Non-Fans