"Veronica Mars" makes the case for cult TV show at SXSW


This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Kristen Bell in a scene from "Veronica Mars." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Robert Voets)
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Kristen Bell in a scene from "Veronica Mars." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Robert Voets)

When “Veronica Mars” premiered ten years ago, I didn’t know much about it. I continued to not know much about it until I randomly caught a re-run on MTV — the show did guest star Paris Hilton, after all — and I was immediately hooked. From there, the show’s mix of social commentary, hard-boiled sleuthing and high school antics kept me coming back for every episode.

So when series creator Rob Thomas launched a Kickstarter campaign that wildly exceeded expectations, it was hard not to be excited at the prospect of seeing my favorite teen detective on a much bigger screen than I was used to, and when it was announced that the film would have its world premiere at SXSW, I knew it would be a huge priority. Thankfully, “Veronica Mars” is an outstanding adaptation of the series — sharply written, enthusiastically performed and entirely accessible to those unfamiliar with the source material.

Nine years after the de-facto series finale, “Veronica Mars” comes up with a hell of an excuse to drag our heroine (Kristen Bell) back to the equally rich and corrupt Neptune, California: her ex-boyfriend, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), has been accused of murdering his girlfriend.

It’s a deceptively simple set-up, but writer/director Rob Thomas crafts a potboiler of a tale around it. Thomas’ script compiles a list of suspects that includes just about every recurring character in the history of the show, giving Veronica a chance to interact with a parade of returning actors. Thankfully, this only borders on feeling like fan service for much of the film, and Thomas skillfully folds the many cameos organically into the story. Even better, the film feels like watching an excellent, super-sized episode of the TV show, with all of the twisty plotting and witty dialogue that’s always been in the show’s DNA.

Kristen Bell leads a sizable returning cast with the same reliably caustic charisma she brought to the small screen. Veronica is still the best role Bell’s ever played, and her enthusiasm at being back in the sleuth’s skin is infectious. Because the film doesn’t ask the supporting cast to do anything much differently from what they did on the show, there’s a not entirely unwelcome degree of familiarity to most of the performances. Jason Dohring can still brood and smolder with the best of them, though the film seems reluctant to engage with his character’s tendency to date girls that end up dead. Ryan Hansen’s Dick Casablancas is still brashly hilarious, and Enrico Colatoni’s perfect mixture of paternal hero and total badass as Veronica’s private detective father remains beyond reproach.

Though Veronica’s father is underserved by Thomas’ busy script, along with a few other key members of the ensemble, “Veronica Mars” is a winning return to form. Rob Thomas has maintained the spirit of the show perfectly, and the film sets up for a sequel in fairly irresistible fashion. While fans of the show will certainly find more to love here, “Veronica Mars” is so well-written and entertaining that newcomers may find themselves enticed to catch up.