Robert Voets
March 26, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

Veronica Mars

TV Show
Current Status
In Season
run date
Kristen Bell, Enrico Colantoni, Percy Daggs III, Jason Dohring, Harry Hamlin, Kyle Secor, Michael Muhney, Lisa Rinna, Amanda Seyfried
Rob Thomas
We gave it a B

It’s easy to claim that Mad Men or Breaking Bad or The Wire is superior as art to almost anything you’re likely to encounter in a movie theater. But when justifying the notion that ”TV is better,” that’s almost too easy. How about a brightly written, tartly formulaic, good-but-not-great cult show like Veronica Mars? Where does it stack up on the quality totem pole of big-versus-small-screen aesthetics? The shrewd, corny, enjoyable film version of Veronica Mars offers a clue. By letting us see a beloved but hardly prestigious TV show on the big screen (as well as on VOD), the film gets us to see, in a new way, the strengths and weaknesses of weekly series television that viewers too often take for granted.

Funded by a Kickstarter campaign that drew on its rabid fan base, Veronica Mars updates but preserves the smartly insular, Nancy Drew?meets?Buffy?meets?Emma Peel spirit of the teen-private-eye series. The film is set nine years after the show ended, and it takes the young sleuth played by Kristen Bell as a perky but alienated straight shooter and turns her into a full-fledged adult who must decide if her heart is still in the game of unsolved mysteries. Of course it is. Veronica has a job waiting for her at a money-minting New York law firm, but when a high school classmate?turned?rock star is found dead in the bathtub — and the death is ruled a homicide, and the suspect is Veronica’s old flame Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), who was found on a sex tape with the rock star the day she died — you’d better believe Veronica will put that offer on hold and return to the cozy-but-corrupt hamlet of Neptune, Calif., where biker gangs roam the bad side of town.

I never really bought the plot of the Veronica Mars movie. Her investigation into a murder that has grabbed global headlines hinges on all these people she knows? And even intersects with her 10th high school reunion? There’s something impossibly small-screen quaint about it all. Yet as directed by series creator Rob Thomas, the movie, like the show, is entertainingly fast-talking in a tidy, faux-serious way. Kristen Bell, if anything, has only gained in appeal: She’s alluringly fixated, with eyes like heat-seeking missiles and a dry-martini delivery of lines like ”Kudos for rockin’ the ‘stache till it came back in style!” Bell and Thomas take us back to the hard-boiled-gumshoe Hollywood of the ’40s. Veronica will solve that crime, because she’s got something in common with whoever did it: She’s addicted to the dark side. B

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