Veronica Mars (2014)
Veronica Mars (2014) is a most curious example of wish-fulfillment. Those of us with memories like an elephant — sorry that simile doesn’t quite work in this instance because elephants don’t watch television shows. Those of us who can remember back to 2004. “Hey man, that’s like ten years and so passé. Who’d want to remember something from way back when?” Well, this is Rob Thomas and here’s a Kickstarter riposte to those executives in the movie-making business who don’t think there’s mileage in a cult television show for a sequel, but are prepared to spend millions of dollars in remaking The A-Team or, worse, Dukes of Hazzard, Land of the Lost, etc. Personally, I’d like to see a film based on Pushing Daisies but my eccentricity in matters of taste is notorious.
So, after a brief moment watching our heroine being interviewed by a top New York law firm and living with Stosh “Piz” Piznarski (Chris Lowell) here we are back in Neptune, California with Kristen Bell as she slips seamlessly back into the character of the obsessive investigator who got her full PI licence when she was still at school. She’s responding to a call from Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), who’s now a member of JAG — obviously a man who knows where he’s going so long as it’s by sea. He’s accused of murdering Carrie Bishop who had made a name for herself as a pop diva calling herself “Bonnie DeVille” (ah, what’s in a name). As with most people accused of murder, he needs some help. Naturally, Veronica opts out of the whirlwind of job interviews to fly out to renew acquaintance with her father, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), and the other stalwarts from her youth.
Insofar as this is a film made using fans’ money, the question we have to answer is whether the film is better than the average bear, or something that will only appeal to the diehards. Writing this at the end of the first week in the cinemas, the answer would seem to be limited appeal in the general marketplace. The gross take is edging up to $2.5 million. But the wrinkle we can’t get beyond is the number of people who opted for home viewing. The whisper is fairly positive and Rob Thomas says the early signs for a second film sequel are encouraging. It may well be this turns into a franchise despite the apathy of the power-brokers in Hollywood.
To achieve this no doubt worthy aim, the appeal must satisfy two completely different demographics. When it was being broadcast, it routinely picked up around 2.5 million viewers across three seasons. Whatever sequel is made must satisfy the natural desire of the fans to catch up with as many characters from the series as possible. To that extent the film succeeds as an exercise in nostalgia. Nine years have passed and people may have aged, but the high school reunion brings all the cast back together and provides a vital photographic clue from the past as to the motive for the most recent death. Indeed, as we wander through Neptune, interesting faces resurface, often saying “significant” things for the fans (and for solving the murder).
As to the mystery plot, it’s faintly amusing to see Veronica pull out her old box of PI stuff and have to make do with out-of-date tech. Indeed, her general lack of awareness about the cultural life of the city and its radio stations, is almost the death of her. But the mystery element is a little thin. There’s remarkably little set-up for the murder itself. We don’t get to walk through the scene of the crime or to have someone explain the gatehouse system which suggests Logan was the only one who could have committed the crime. Although this comes out as we get into the second half of the film, it’s always better when we viewers have a clear view of the problem to be solved from the get-go. As one of the attorneys says when Logan is looking for someone to represent him, he needs a viable alternative explanation of who could have done it. This is difficult to formulate without a proper set-up. Even when we have a reconstruction flashback, Veronica’s guess is actually wrong. At the end when we know whodunnit, we’re still left guessing whether her suggested method is correct.
Indeed, the ending sequence is a little undercooked. There’s a confrontation, admissions are made, there’s a chase and a fight. Yes, the classic elements are present but, somehow, they lack a true thriller quality. It has a made-for-television feel to it. I know the film was made on a tight budget so not as much time could be taken to get a full cinematic quality to it, but shambling around in the dark is not my idea of getting the job done. Putting all this together, I’m left moderately satisfied. It was good to see flashes of the old Veronica Mars spirit in some of the characters and situations — it’s slightly disappointing there’s not very much character development outside the core players. Summing up, the final evaluation can’t depend on past familiarity. The current mystery element must be strong enough and, somehow, I don’t think this is well enough put together to “hit the spot”. With a little more care, this could have been excellent. As it is, Veronica Mars is only slightly better than average.