Whatever the appeal of Veronica Mars may have been on the small screen, it is wholly lost on the big screen version of the same name, a lackluster movie that plays like a television show loaded with in-jokes, hijinks and cardboard characters, and a vehicle for star Kristen Bell to revisit her most famous role, a teenage, outsider sleuth now in her late 20s and pursuing a career as a corporate attorney until a new case puts her right back in Neptune, California.
The little seen 2004-2007 television series ran just three seasons but amassed a cult following strong enough to raise nearly $6 million bucks to find this picture, such was their fervor to see tart-tongued Veronica Mars back in action, and show creator/film director Rob Thomas (not that Rob Thomas) works overtime to satisfy show fans. The rest of us, not so much. What is onscreen here plays like a long television episode and for the uninitiated, it’s somewhat baffling.
After a snappy opening montage summarizing the entire Veronica Mars television series, the picture moves nine years forward and Mars has completed law school and left behind her sleuthing days, gunning for a corporate attorney role from a big law firm led by partner Jamie Lee Curtis (typically good).
The prefab and tepid mystery involves the mysterious death of one Bonnie DeVille (yes, that’s actually her name), a Katy Perry-like pop star whose lifeless body is found in her bathtub under mysterious circumstances. Wouldn’t you know it—Bonnie was also a former high school classmate of Veronica Mars, so it doesn’t take long for Mars to return to her old haunts, Thomas pulling what seems like every character ever to appear on the television show into the narrative, muddying an already slack mystery.
Home in Neptune with her investigator father (Enrico Colantoni), Mars reconnects with ex-boyfriend Logan (a bland Jason Dohring), the prime suspect, and best friends Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (Tina Majorino, who as a child gave a haunting performance in When a Man Loves a Woman), enlisting their services in following the trail.
Everyone is a suspect, including a sycophantic fan (well-played by Gaby Hoffman) who looks, talks and sings like the deceased, and pines for an affair with the dead woman’s former lover, who also happens to be Logan.
Red herrings abound, including subplots about TMZ and celebrities being spied upon, tons of technology, a comic keystone cop played by Jerry O’Connell and two truly obnoxious characters—a rich, shrewish former friend (Kristen Ritter) with a past secret and an airheaded Surfer Dude (Ryan Hansen), both of whom chew through every moment of screen time.
Thomas uses the homecoming to stage a wildly unbelievable class reunion sequence, another excuse to trot out characters most viewers will not recognize, though the preview audience I sat through this with must have been Veronica Mars legion as evidenced by their generosity to such pablum.
Bell, who still seems to be an actress in search of a movie (and whose voice illuminates Frozen), isn’t effective or convincing in this role, nor—importantly—does her Veronica ever seem smart enough (her sleuthing is largely based on coincidence) or in any true peril (there’s zero suspense in the denouement).
The resolution to the mystery is both arbitrary and contrived, trumped up with selfies and iPads and wildly unbelievable machinations, and never once does it feel like Veronica—or anyone—is in real danger.
The film truly does play like television on the big screen, with no attempt to deliver anything cinematic in cinematography, score or editing, and courtesy of DP Ben Hutchins, the picture actually looks ugly—alternately underlit and then garishly glossy.
Cameos by Curtis and James Franco elevate the proceedings, if only fleetingly.
1 1/2 stars.