The current cultural directive to give the people what they want explains the existence of the“Veronica Mars” movie, a likable, unmemorable, feature-length footnote to the admired television series that became a cause when it was canceled in 2007. A sleuth from the fictional, filthy rich town of Neptune, Veronica traversed high school and college for three seasons, solving mysteries while cracking wise about the privileged locals. She looked like a Southern California cheerleader and alternately talked like Sam Spade and Noam Chomsky, a combo that made her television’s very own Little Miss Sunshine and Noir.
Veronica is back, having been resurrected by her creator, Rob Thomas, and its star, Kristen Bell, again in the title role, through aKickstarter campaign that drew on the largess of its fans. Some 91,000 contributors, perhaps hungry for closure, ponied up the cash to bankroll a movie, raising $2 million in (pant, pant) under 12 hours on the way to $5.7 million. That may be chump change to Warner Bros., which owns the rights to “Veronica Mars” (and threw in more money), but the campaign makes a nice story even if legions of fans will be paying a multinational corporation dearly to see an old friend. As of Friday, the movie will be in some theaters but also a video on demand, so for $14.99 or $19.99 in HD — about twice an average movie ticket — they and everyone else can watch it the way that it should be seen: on TV.
That the theatrical release feels like a wrong move isn’t about the nominal limitations of television, but rather its strengths. The original series hasn’t aged; rather, like all good TV it feels perfectly preserved, like a butterfly in amber. That’s principally because of the timeless righteousness of Veronica, who embodies the struggle of right over wrong and who, with wit and charmingly breezy cool, fights the mean girls and boys, the Botoxed queens and murderous kings of her neo-Versailles.
Yet while Veronica walks and talks the hard-boiled line she can be a soft touch. With her father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni, back too), she takes on cases for pay but also because she cares. Like Buffy Summers, her sister in bantam blond awesomeness, Veronica was born to do this.
Specifically, she was born to do this once upon a time week after week, with introductory teasers, a wry voice-over, narrative complications and those mini-cliffhangers called act outs or act breaks that precede commercials. The movie is something of an advertisement for itself in some franchise form or another, and while it doesn’t exactly have act outs, Mr. Thomas, who wrote and directed, remains fond of mini-climaxes.
The story involves Veronica’s returning to Neptune to help out Logan (Jason Dohring), her onetime adversary and old boyfriend, who’s suspected of killing his rock-star girlfriend. Mr. Thomas’s appreciation for over-the-top, prime-time-soap-opera-style entanglements — he went to school in Austin, Tex., and surely studied the florid TV show “Dallas” — also remains intact.
It’s nice to see Ms. Bell and some of the other “Veronica Mars” regulars making the rounds in Neptune, including her former sidekick, Wallace (Percy Daggs III), and her gal-pal Mac (Tina Majorino), the hacker who once conned the high school elite. Yet even without another episode to look forward to — and then another and another — their homecoming never sits right. Everything feels forced, from Veronica’s almost compulsive snappy patter to a class reunion that includes a sex tape and a brawl. A story thread involving Veronica and her current squeeze, Piz (Chris Lowell), is especially unpersuasive because it dies the moment that Logan appears before Veronica in his ill-fitting Navy whites and she name-checks “An Officer and a Gentleman,” a joke made unfunny by its obvious narrative telegraphing.
What does Veronica want? Mr. Thomas suggests that even after graduating from law school — and with a seductive big-city job dangling before her — she yearns for Neptune and its sordid intrigues. The problem is that Mr. Thomas can’t make the case or his story convincing. It’s clear why he and Ms. Bell are back, and there’s Logan’s murder rap, of course. But it’s hard to believe that Veronica, having matured into the totally together woman you always knew she would become, would honestly want to return to this pitiful small town other than for a visit with Dad.
She might want to extend that trip and nostalgically break out the Taser. She might even want to tie up some of the ends that have remained loose for the last seven years. But why would you want to go home again when you could just stream it on Amazon?
“Veronica Mars” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Violence, fisticuffs and a high school reunion.