Veronica Mars

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“Veronica Mars” fans (or Marshmallows, as they call themselves) can finally relax. The long-awaited, Kickstarter-funded film has finally hit big screens, and while the results will thrill the fans, those unfamiliar with the WB/CW series needn’t bother to buy a ticket.

It’s easy to see why “Mars” was a fan favorite before The CW cancelled it in 2007. No Nancy Drew, Veronica was a tough little cookie, a snarky outsider, hardened by the murder of her best friend and the subsequent rejection of her former rich-kid friends. Played by the terrific Kristen Bell, “Mars” was smart enough to attract a broader audience than one would expect from a series that appeared to be targeted to teen girls. In addition to clever scripts often penned and directed by show creator Rob Thomas, “Mars” featured a solid ensemble that included Krysten Ritter, Ryan Hansen, Francis Capra, Percy Daggs III, Chris Lowell, Tina Majorino and Enrico Colantoni, as former sheriff turned gumshoe, Keith Mars. All return in the film, and it’s great to see them again.

A nearly noirish world of have and have-nots, the TV show was bathed in a dark palette of stained glass reds and ambers contrasting with the sun bleached resort town of Neptune, California.  It looked terrific as home entertainment, but like a number of things in the movie, it doesn’t fully translate to a huge screen.  

Thomas and co-author Diane Ruggiero have done their best to bring the uninitiated up to speed with an opening 8 minute “previously on” segment, but it still doesn’t quite hit the target. And, although the original series featured frequent Veronica soliloquy voiceovers, the necessity of an explanatory narration as every character comes on screen eventually becomes an annoyance.

When we catch up with Veronica, she has done a good job of leaving her past behind. She’s a recent law school grad living in New York City, about to sign on with a prominent law firm, and she even picked the “right” guy, Stosh “Piz” Piznarski (Lowell). But when she gets a call from her trouble making ex-boyfriend Logan (the ever smoldering Dohring) – who has been accused of murdering his pop star girlfriend – Veronica heads back to Neptune.  Though she plans to stay only long enough to help Logan find an attorney, Veronica soon finds herself being pulled back into a life she thought she had left behind. Neptune High’s 10 year reunion also happens to conveniently take place as she arrives, and we get to revisit most of the original gang. (The film also includes a few choice cameos, including James Franco, as himself, Justin Long and Bell’s real-life husband, Dax Shepard.)

Though it’s a good enough premise, if you really want to see where the story should have gone, check out a 20 minute film on You Tube that Thomas and Bell financed in 2007 in an attempt to convince Warner Brother to renew the show for a 4th season. The Working title was “Veronica Mars: FBI. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a Marshmallow since VM debuted on the WB network in 2004, and I enthusiastically participated in the Kickstarter campaign.  It’s been more than a fan could ask for – a year of bi-weekly updates from Thomas and co., behind-the-scenes photos and videos, and some cool swag. It more than compensated for my small contribution, and offered a chance to feel like I was part of the process. It was also a lot more fun than the end result.

Getting a movie made can be an iffy prospect at best, studios want a sure thing. Marketing costs can rival the millions it costs to make a film, and the odds of getting a little film like “Mars” made are next to nil. Thomas and Bell’s decision to try to get the movie crowd-funded was a smart choice, and could be a lasting template for similar small future projects. Warner Brothers hedged its bets by releasing the film via their home entertainment division and renting (4-walling) AMC theaters so that 100% of the box office goes straight back to the studio. Although this means VM will only show in cities with AMC theaters, it is also coming out via video-on-demand and digital downloads today. The DVD will be released in July.

The Bottom Line: The Veronica Mars movie feels like a TV show on a big screen, albeit a well-produced TV show. Though the movie couldn’t have been made without crowd funding, it felt like Thomas and Ruggiero felt a need to pander to the fans in ways that rang false to the characters. If you are a hard core fan, by all means catch it at an AMC theater near you. Otherwise, watch it on demand or wait for the DVD release. It’s sure to look better on your TV at home.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sexuality including references, drug content, violence and some strong language)

Running time: 1:47

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