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