Video Verdict: ‘Veronica Mars’ the movie

Kristen Bell plays the title character in “Veronica Mars,” a big-screen continuation of the television show.

Kristen Bell plays the title character in “Veronica Mars,” a big-screen continuation of the television show.

It’s a relatively slow week for home video, but fans of the television series “Veronica Mars” have plenty to cheer about.

Veronica Mars

3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality including references, drug content, violence and some strong language
Warner Brothers
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

The “Veronica Mars” movie exists only because fans of the TV show willed it into existence. Writer-director Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell sought funding for the long-talked-about picture on the Kickstarter website, and money rolled in at an astounding pace. The fact that major studios previously balked at the idea of backing the film makes one wonder about the state of the film industry. It also makes one wonder if “Veronica Mars” will change cinema.

The movie made headlines in March by hitting theaters and digital platforms at the same time. The film’s theatrical returns weren’t astounding, but they were respectable, meaning even more independent filmmakers could take this route, potentially disrupting the standard patterns of movie distribution.

This week, “Veronica Mars” gets another test as it moves to Blu-ray and DVD, expanding its reach significantly. Obviously, this opens another revenue stream for distributors. More importantly, fans now have the opportunity to own the movie in a tangible form.

Only a handful of failed TV series have developed cult followings powerful enough to launch them into theaters – the original “Star Trek” and Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” come to mind. That makes “Veronica Mars” special. It also means Thomas and Bell were working under a great deal of pressure. Imagine the reaction if their fan-funded baby had been a miserable artistic experience. Thankfully, it’s not.

“Veronica Mars,” the movie, is quirky, fun, humorous and often exciting. I say this as a critic who has watched nary an episode of the TV series, but that is likely to change. I found the movie so entertaining that the series is now on my watch list, and – thanks to DVD and streaming services – binge viewing a seven-year-old show is a breeze.

It’s difficult to say if the “Veronica Mars” movie will lure other newcomers to the material, but there is a chance. The script, written by Thomas and long-time collaborator Diane Ruggerio, delivers a sweet, neo-noir thriller that is accessible even to viewers who’ve never heard of “Veronica Mars.” That said, Thomas has numerous nods to dedicated fans.

Occasionally, the on-screen happenings will give newcomers pause. They may even feel like they’re watching an in-joke from the outer circle. As frustrating as that may sound, it’s not. Thomas does a skillful job introducing his characters and bringing viewers up to speed on their backgrounds.

The story picks up years after events depicted in the “Veronica Mars” series. Veronica (Kristen Bell), is now an adult, and she tells us – through narration – that the years she spent as a teen detective were harmful to her life and relationships. Because of this, she has decided to settle into a boring-but-stable existence as a New York lawyer. She is also in an ongoing relationship with Stosh “Piz” Piznarski (Chris Lowell).

Alas, Veronica isn’t good with boring. When former boyfriend Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) is implicated in a high-profile murder, she rushes back to her hometown of Neptune, Calif., promising to help him choose an attorney. She, of course, is lured deeper into Logan’s case and is soon obsessed with clearing his name.

This isn’t groundbreaking plotting, but it is fun. Thomas presents the material with a noir sensibility that makes Veronica a modern, female version of Sam Spade. This idea is reinforced by cynical, world-weary voiceover that feels deliciously ironic when issued by a character as young as Veronica.

Fans will appreciate the fact that many of the TV series’ key characters are back. These include Veronica’s father (Enrico Colantoni) and pals Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Cindy (Tina Majorino). All the performers are terrific, which isn’t surprising considering their familiarity with these roles.

Although the setup for “Veronica Mars” is simple, Thomas and Ruggerio deliver a mystery that’s worth unraveling. It has the appropriate twists and turns, and it peaks at the perfect time.

The movie’s relatively small budget is apparent, but not problematic. Because Thomas had to be careful with his money, the film delivers on a grassroots level, and that is refreshing.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a gag reel, deleted scenes, and several behind-the-scenes features.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“The Andy Griffith Show” – Season 1: Thirty-two episodes of Griffith’s long-running comedy about small-town, American life. Griffith plays Andy Taylor, the sheriff of a North Carolina community. Other key characters include Taylor’s son, Opie (Ron Howard), and his less-than-competent deputy, Barney Fife (Don Knotts).

“I Love Lucy” – Ultimate Season 1: Lucille Ball’s “I Love Lucy” is a classic-television gem, and this Paramount release contains the first 35 episodes, all remastered from the original, 35-millimeter negatives. The plotting centers on a New York City couple (Ball and Desi Arnaz) and their best friends (William Frawley and Vivian Vance).

“China Beach” – Season 3: This late-1980s and early 1990s military drama was something of a flop despite receiving excellent reviews. Nevertheless, it lasted four seasons on ABC and has a continuing fan base. This release includes every season-three episode. Dana Delaney, Marg Helgenberger, Ricki Lake and Jeff Kober star.

“Rookie Blue” – Season 4: The fifth season of this police drama will begin airing in July. That leaves fans plenty of time to revisit the 13 episodes on this set. The show focuses on inexperienced police officers adapting to life on the force. Missy Peregrym and Gregory Smith star.

“Little House on the Prairie” – Season Two: Lionsgate delivers 22 episodes of the 1970s and ’80s TV series about a farm family living in Minnesota during the late 1800s. This release is a special treat for fans, as every episode has been remastered and is shown uncut. Michael Landon, Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson star.

“Laverne & Shirley” – The Final Season: This sitcom about two best friends ran for eight seasons on ABC. This release is noteworthy because Shirley (Cindy Williams) gets married during the second episode and never appears again. Penny Marshall also stars.

“The Honeymooners” – Classic 39 Episodes: Despite a much-loved cast, the original “Honeymooners” TV series lasted only 39 episodes. This collection has them all. Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph star.

“Separate But Equal”: Fans of Sidney Poitier will be pleased to see this 1991 TV movie score a home video release. Poitier plays Thurgood Marshall in an Emmy-winning look at events leading up to the Brown V. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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One response to “Video Verdict: ‘Veronica Mars’ the movie

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