Starts with NO SPOILERS and then, later and clearly marked, SPOILERS.
The Veronica Mars movie is great. Veronica Mars was as TV show on from 2004-2007 that many feel was cancelled before its time. Evidently, so many people thought that there was more to be had from Veronica Mars, that the creator, Rob Thomas, crowd-funded a movie that, perhaps as a sign o’ the times, hit theaters and on-demand at exactly the same time. If you know nothing about Veronica Mars, it has one of the smartest, most fun spins on the private eye genre ever on TV. Go out and watch the series! Watch the movie! They’re both great.
If you liked the series Veronica Mars good news, you will love this movie. I can’t think of another example of a return to a fictional world that felt so seamless. Most of the time, you can’t really go back once the moment is gone. Tobey Maguire was great, but it would be weird if he returned to play Spider-Man again. It feels like Veronica Mars is a real person and we’ve just started filming her again. Watch any other installments of story–the first, second, and third Star Trek movies, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, Dr. No and Skyfall–and see if there is any constancy in character, tone, or visual language. Hell, sometimes when shows come back from hiatus, things that once worked just don’t work anymore. Maybe some key thinker left or an actor got too big for his britches and wants to work his Hollywood buddies into the cast or one of the producers has become a vegan Zoroastrian and wants to work it into the show.
The movie just works. The characters feel real, lived in, and I, for one, wanted to know more about them. The story is intelligent and compelling. And the dialogue, ye gods, the dialogue is stellar, interstellar, the kind of quips you dream of coming up with off the cuff. No one is out-sassing Veronica Mars! I think that Veronica has the most consistently funny dialogue, internal and external, this side of Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, which is very funny. And Veronica and Sam are both smart asses, especially when it can get them in trouble. The script takes some word play chances and is funny on its own. There’s a nice moment when a lot of serious things are happening and Veronica calls 911 and asks them to come to “The 400 Block of Exposition Avenue.” I almost missed it!
If anything, the tone is too consistent with previous incarnations and sometimes, it really feels like we’re in a television show with the language (one F word though!) and especially the look, which felt like it could have been a little more stylish (or gritty or bleak or, well, thought out). But the movie works so hard at plot, character, and entertainment value, that it is easy to give it a pass on beauty.
The plot is very simple: Veronica Mars has been working for nine years to get her life together, getting her law degree and is poised to work for a large, prestigious law firm, who sound like a bunch of a scumbag fixers, keeping so-called “nuisance suits” against their rich clients from going to court. In short, Veronica is about to sell her soul. Veronica used to be a teen-aged sleuth, doing whatever it took to get to the bottom of a mystery or to help out a friend. But her actions got her in a lot of trouble, danger, and cost her many friends. So now she is just trying to play it safe, get a good job that uses her formidable brain, stay with the nice guy, Piz (a lot of nicknames in the Veronica Mars world). She gets a call asking for help from an old boyfriend, bad boy Logan, who is charged with murder and she returns to the corrupt town of Neptune, California to clear Logan’s name.
By the by, on the show, when Veronica was dating Piz, I don’t think anyone was on Team Piz. I wonder if anyone watching the movie hopes she stays with Piz.
One of my favorite parts of the movie is that Veronica has lost her edge. She tries to be her old self, but keeps making mistakes or getting caught. She even does the film noir theme of getting her ass kicked a few times (though not literally). Her tech is a little behind the times. And she is constantly wrong, although dogged in pursuit of the truth.
The acting is good, but not the kind of showy acting that wins Oscars, just a lot of solid work that makes you believe that these are real people. Ken Marino and Max Greenfield in particular stand out as really funny guys who can actually act. And Enrico Colantoni as Keith, Veronica’s dad, quietly steals the show. Man, is that guy good. Jerry O’Connell was a weird bit of casting as the bad guy Sheriff Lamb. But that might be a Veronica Mars thing, casting really likable people as bad guys. The Sheriff’s office has a lot of smart! And Ryan Hansen is just hilarious, bringing a nice counterpoint to any serious moments. Kristen Bell is right on the money.
The best thing I can always say about any mystery is that it plays fair. And Veronica Mars plays fair. There isn’t one moment in this movie that isn’t hinted at. For instance, there’s a spot where someone is recorded by a hidden camera. The hidden camera is explained ten or fifteen minutes before we see it, but no one says, “This is a hidden camera,” during the scene, although, of course, it comes up later. And I didn’t guess the murderer, but I think someone who was really trying could do so. There are a few very telling moments with the benefit of hindsight.
I know logically that this movie was made as result of a Kickstarter fund-raising, so I was keenly aware of the extras at all times. Like, I bet the last lawyer Logan interviewed threw a ham hock of money into the pot. There were extras who really seemed to get a moment in the sun without being too conspicuous. If you don’t know about it, I bet you wouldn’t notice. But since I did know about it, it brought a nice sense of community to the movie. This movie wasn’t made because some guy with a big cigar in Pasadena thought his teen girlfriend would think the movie was a hoot (take that, movie executives!), but because people wanted to see more of what creator Rob Thomas had to say about his creation. And some of those people are actually in the movie, running or stopping to tie their shoe. It’s fun! In TV and movies, whenever an extra draws too much attention to themselves, I mention to my wife, the beautiful Kelly, that they are probably a contest winner of some sort (Win a walk-on role in The Mentalist!). And although I don’t normally like noticing extras, I’m all right with it in this context.
When I offer the criticism that the movie feels like a TV pilot, I mean it very literally. First of all, it doesn’t feel like anyone involved was any kind of a cinematographer. The best shot in the movie is an homage to the money shot at the end of 16 Candles with Jake leaning on the car (except it’s Logan). But it’s more than just the look of the movie. There are a lot of unresolved moments in the movie that feel like the kind of thing that you would find out in the season finale. For instance, Sheriff Lamb is called a “patsy” and there is the implication that there is a a conspiracy to help rich people that goes all the way to the top. By the end of the movie, Lamb is on his way out. But we don’t know who is the sheriff’s puppet master! And what about Weevil? How would joining a motorcycle gang help him after a gun is planted on him? I would think it would make him significantly more likely to be sent to prison, joining a gang. Could the kingpin have some plans for Weevil? And for God’s sakes, who tried to kill Keith? And Bonnie was killed by electrocuting her in the bathtub? Good God, why? That’s a weird way to kill someone? Was that a crime of opportunity? But Cobb snuck in! Was that the plan all along? There’s a lot unresolved for a movie. I’m all for world-building, but movies are, ideally, more self-contained than this.
I’ve seen a lot of disastrous high school reunions in movies and TV (and in real life). But this might be the grand prize winner for a situation that gets gradually out of control and descends into grand guignol in a very believable way. There is a hilarious moment where a sex tape from the series shows up and really gets a lot more play than you’d think. Really, they let it play for about a minute and a half before someone goes up and, very politely, figures out how to turn off the projector. And then we get to see the long-suffering principal from the series and he and Veronica share a nice little moment.
There’s lots of things like that in the movie, everyone in the movie is a character. People who seem important, we never see again, because everyone seems important. Hell, there’s a bouncer who does almost nothing and I thought, he seems like a nice guy. I complained earlier that the movie could have used a cinematographer. But how much better would those early Star Wars trilogy movies have been if the director had been less concerned about spectacle and more concerned about character? Rob Thomas isn’t a great visual director, but he gets great performances out of everyone. I think Thomas could knock them dead in the theater.
Nitpick! One thing that felt like a mistake was that after Bonnie DeVille was killed, Vinnie Van Lowe mentioned that the tablet he set up to record and broadcast, had not recorded any new footage. But Gia still had the tablet. So did it not broadcast when it was powered off? I’m sure we can come up with ten explanations as to why it hadn’t been activated, but it felt weird that I had to cogitate on it during the movie.
And just a quick note, same day on-demand as in theaters? I don’t expect that to happen with Avengers 2 or most big budget films. But speaking as a new parent, good God was this convenient. I wish they would do that with everything. And I just ordered the tie-in novel!
Hey does anyone else wonder what happened to Duncan?
Note for the ladies: Logan Echols and Ira Glass. Swoon!
Anyway, newbies and Marshmallows alike, get your butt in front of your TV or out to the theater and see Veronica Mars.