SXSW 2014 Review: VERONICA MARS, Older But Still Wisecracking

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas (@peteramartin)
SXSW 2014 Review: VERONICA MARS, Older But Still Wisecracking

The idea of a wisecracking female detective in her late twenties may not be quite as fresh as a wisecracking female detective in high school. But the formula that creator Rob Thomas and company developed for a television series is still sufficiently potent to power the feature-length version of Veronica Mars.

In the TV show, which ran for three seasons from 2004 to 2007, Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) investigates the murder of her best friend, then is ostracized because her father (Enrico Colantoni) is ousted as sheriff after he uncovers corruption at the highest levels in the small, seaside town of Neptune, California. This is nicely recapped in the first two minutes of the movie, which also summarizes the failed relationship between Veronica and bad-boy Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring).

Having escaped Neptune for college nine years before, Veronica is now living with her boyfriend Piz (Chris Lowell) in New York, ready to begin a high-paying career as a lawyer at a prestigious firm. She is drawn back to Neptune when her ex-boyfriend Logan calls for help; he's been accused of murdering his girlfriend, a pop star and also a former high school classmate.

That brings Veronica back to familiar territory, where she can come to the defense of her former flame, trade wisecracks with her father and friends (Tina Majorino, Percy Daggs III), and make barbed comments to former enemy combatants. Veronica is about the only Neptune resident to make it out alive, so there are plenty of opportunities for appearances by familiar characters, especially since it just happens -- ha! --to be the weekend of Veronica's high school reunion.

Beyond the wisecracks and the cameos, however, the overriding issue is addressed by Keith, Veronica's father: 'Why are you still here?' Veronica extends her stay in town order to bring a resolution to the murder case, but she's reluctant to address her continued attraction both to Logan and the town of Nepture. With greener pastures awaiting, why continue to roll in the mud of the nasty little town with far too many secrets for its own good?

Veronica Mars is everything a feature film that is based on a TV show with a devoted fan base needs to be, and not much more. It plays well as a 'very special' extended episode of the series, updates the key characters, and is sure to please the faithful. And it provides an entry point for those who've never seen the show, offering a saltier, PG-13 version filled with wisecracks and tough-guy attitudes.

Kristen Bell is in fine form and entirely comfortable in the lead role, with the rest of the cast recapturing their characters with few apparent changes; Krysten Ritter and Amanda Noret stand out. Rob Thomas, who directed, does a serviceable job.

The film had its world premiere at SXSW yesterday. It opens in limited release in U.S. theaters on Friday, March 14. Visit the official site for more information.

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