For those not in the know, Veronica Mars was one of the best cult TV shows from the past decade. Detailing the adventures of a whip-smart, wisecracking high school sleuth at its best this neo-noir update of Nancy Drew reached Twin Peaks levels of subversive intrigue. It also made Kristen Bell a star. Set nine years on from the third and final season, the feature film finds former teen private eye Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) now graduated with a law degree, a possible career with a prestigious legal firm and finally a steady boyfriend in reliable nice guy 'Piz' Piznarski (Chris Lowell). But the killing of a high school alumni draws Veronica back to her home town of Neptune, California and bad boy ex Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) who stands accused of murder. Again. Although Veronica's dad, former sheriff turned private eye Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni) wants her to grab a brighter future in New York, our feisty heroine starts snooping again, unearthing a tangled web of police corruption and sordid secrets among the rich and powerful. Which leads Veronica to wonder whether she can ever escape her past?
Shortly after cancelling the show, Warner Brothers put the kibosh on a proposed Veronica Mars movie. Whereupon show creator Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell herself spearheaded a Kickstarter campaign that while controversial for some (who felt it betrayed the underlining ethos of crowd-funding to help aspiring filmmakers outside the loop) was very enthusiastically embraced by fans who donated a little more than six million dollars to get their beloved heroine and other cherished characters onto the big screen. Consequently, this long-awaited spin-off is a film very much geared towards established fans who, as glimpsed on the genuinely endearing making of documentary included on the DVD, were not only given tickets to the premiere but worked as extras on the film and enjoyed rare levels of interaction with the kindly cast. All of which renders the story behind the making of this movie a really rather sweet triumph of fan power.
However, despite opening with a nifty montage complete with trademark sassy-sardonic Veronica voice-over (oh, how we fans have missed that snappy gumshoe dialogue) the film is far from an ideal entry point for newcomers, featuring in-jokes, returning minor characters and resolutions to minor sub-plots only VM obsessives truly care about. Truth be told it is not especially cinematic and comes across more or less a feature length episode of the show. Which is not necessarily a bad thing given the script penned by Thomas along with regular series writer Diane Ruggiero includes all sharp satirical wit, warm character interplay and laugh-out loud moments fans know and love and the mystery, while lacking the scope of previous season arcs, remains compelling. The film proves most successful at exploring whether a person can truly escape who they are or alternatively embrace that as they key to true personal fulfillment. Perhaps the best scene in the movie is the high school reunion which really captures that unique mix of warmth and nausea that arises from revisiting the past.
Almost all of the original cast reprise their roles from the show with the regrettable exception of Leighton Meester who was committed to another movie: Tina Majorino as tech whiz Mac, Krysten Ritter as high society bitch Gia Goodman, Percy Daggs III as guy Friday Wallace Fennell, Jerry O'Connell as preening corrupt Sheriff Dan Lamb, Francis Capra as reformed delinquent 'Weevil' Navarro (who has an intriguing minor character arc that should have been developed further), Ken Marino as sleazy rival P.I. Vinnie Van Marino ("I'm the reason people know Anne Hathaway has a vagina!"), among others. Ryan Hansen continues to steal scenes as TV's most lovable asshole, Dick Casablancas and while Jason Dohring was never the most convincing broody bad boy he does make Logan more personable than ever. Maybe not enough to make the Veronica-Logan romance quite as convincingly tortured and passionate as the filmmakers believe it to be but what can you do? I was never among those who bought into their star-crossed relationship. Stirred into the mix are an array of surprise cameos that include Jamie Lee Curtis as the tough boss of a law firm, Justin Long and Kristen Bell's significant other Dax Shepard as two would-be Casanovas who hit on her at a bar and most remarkably James Franco in a hilarious self-parodic turn. Even in its weaker moments the undimmed mega-wattage charisma of Kristen Bell, relishing the kind of lacerating one-liners Bogie in his prime would kill for, powers through. Though modest in ambition it is an easy film to like and largely satisfying for fans.