Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Krysten Ritter, Ryan Hansen, Francis Capra, Percy Daggs III, Gaby Hoffmann, Chris Lowell, Tina Majorino, Jerry O'Connell, Martin Starr, Jamie Lee Curtis, Enrico Colantoni, Ken Marino, Max Greenfield, Eddie Jemison, James Franco
Written by: Rob Thomas, Diane Ruggiero, based on a story and characters created by Rob Thomas
Directed by: Rob Thomas
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexuality including references, drug content, violence and some strong language
Running Time: 107
Date: 03/14/2014

Veronica Mars (2014)

3 Stars (out of 4)

For the Marshmallows

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Part of the buzz behind the new Veronica Mars movie is its Kickstarter fundraiser campaign, which broke all kinds of records and ended up with some 91,000 donors raising $5.7 million for the movie they wanted to see.

Veronica Mars is based on the TV series which ran for three seasons between 2004 and 2007, which I enjoyed and which I believe could more correctly be called a "cult favorite" than a hit. This was the reason the creators decided to use Kickstarter; no studio would take a chance on a cult favorite without some reassurance as to the size of the fan base.

In any case, the show and the movie are about a plucky, beautiful, but wise and cynical heroine, Veronica -- perfectly played by Kristen Bell -- who more or less became a high school detective after the murder of her best friend. It helps that her father (Enrico Colantoni) is also a troublemaking private eye.

Ten years later, Veronica has tried to put as much distance between herself and her cruddy hometown of Neptune, California. She's now in New York, applying for law jobs, and has given up sleuthing. She's also dating Stosh "Piz" Piznarski (Chris Lowell) though they barely see each other.

She gets word of her old high school flame, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), who has been accused of murdering his girlfriend, their old schoolmate turned pop star, Bonnie DeVille (Andrea Estella, who replaces Leighton Meester from the show). There's an internet video of Logan going ballistic at a party, which more or less seals his fate.

Veronica agrees to return to Neptune only to help Logan select a good lawyer. But it's not long before she gets a taste of her old detecting skills and she can't stop snooping. (She likens her condition to her mother's alcoholism.)

Most of your old favorites return, plus Gaby Hoffmann as a crazy Bonnie DeVille groupie, as a Jerry O'Connell as the new sheriff, Jamie Lee Curtis as a slick lawyer offering Veronica a job, and -- because what movie is complete without him? -- James Franco. Bell's husband Dax Shepard also appears as a sleazy bar patron trying to pick up on Veronica. And if Bell looks a bit, um, "motherly," in the movie, it's because she gave birth to their daughter just a couple of months before filming.

The movie was directed by series creator Rob Thomas, and though he's done a lot of writing and producing, he only directed two episodes of the show, and this is his big screen debut. The result is not particularly visually exciting; it looks like a big TV show. Whatever interesting sets or locations come up are quickly established and ignored, and there are only a few slam-bang sequences of action or suspense. The emphasis is on playful dialogue.

But, really, isn't that what critics complain about all the time? That movies simply try to go "bigger" without any emphasis on dialogue or character? So that makes Veronica Mars a refreshing anomaly, really. More so, because it focuses on a strong female lead in an industry that routinely focuses on boys. (Veronica came from a time that celebrated tough females on the small screen, like Xena and Buffy.)

So the Veronica Mars movie isn't the groundbreaker or the life-changer that you may have hoped, but like the show it's highly enjoyable, and probably more of a cult favorite than a blockbuster. Frankly, we could use more like it.

Warner Home Video's DVD and Blu-ray release includes an hour-long documentary, "By the Fans: The Making of Veronica Mars." The Blu-ray comes exclusively with a shorter featurette, deleted scenes, and a gag reel.

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