Film Review: Veronica Mars (2014, dir. Rob Thomas)

rs_634x945-140110122132-634.veronica-mars.cm.11013Has there been a bona fide great crowdfunded narrative feature yet? My preliminary searches thus far have yielded no good results. Spike Lee’s vampire movie was, by all accounts, a bust; Zach Braff’s spiritual cousin to GARDEN STATE was dead on arrival; and unless you were a Christian with a high tolerance for quirkiness, the BLUE LIKE JAZZ adaptation likely annoyed the shit out of you. For all the guff I give the big and small film companies of the world, I have to give them some credit for not being willing to pony up cash to support these wonky efforts.

VERONICA MARS doesn’t raise the bar on the Kickstarter-fueled movie industry either. The beloved, lamented TV series was given a shot in the arm via a fundraising campaign that pulled in over $5 million from fans and friends. That’s nearly half of what the film raked in at the box office. Methinks people like the idea of support these projects more than they actually enjoy going to watch them. And after sitting through this feature-length version of the adventures of a snarky female detective solving mysteries in the chic yet dangerous town of Neptune, California, I’m wont to side with those that stayed away.

The film adaptation does everything it can to bring newbies into the fold, with a long pre-credit bit of exposition that cuts in small pieces of the show’s three seasons, while also cutting out large, apparently unnecessary parts of the source material’s dense back story. I don’t envy writers Rob Thomas (who also directed the film) and Diane Ruggiero for having to get people up to speed in less than 10 minutes. From there, we are brought back into Veronica Mars’ life, as she attempts to leave her past behind with a promising job at a law firm and a boyfriend from home who is now working for This American Life (cue strange cameo from TAL host Ira Glass).

Veronica (as ever, played by Kristen Bell) is pulled back home after her ex, Logan Echolls, is accused of murdering his pop star girlfriend. Initially, the idea is to help him choose a lawyer, but as she finds herself falling back under the sway of the strange vortex that is her home town, she decides to stay and help track down the real killer. Along the way, all of your favorite characters from the show are trucked back in front of the camera – many of them relegated to cameo status, really – while Veronica and Logan pull on the thread that will hopefully unravel this mystery.

If you’re a baseball fan, you’re likely familiar with the condensed games on the Major League Baseball website, that cuts the video of a full two-to-three hour contest down to a highlight reel of the hits and the outs. That’s just what VERONICA MARS felt like: 20 episodes of a serialized TV show, knocked down to just over 100 minutes. There’s little time to get back into the lives of any of the secondary or tertiary characters. Like the high school reunion that serves as the centerpiece for Veronica’s visit home, you get a quick glimpse into the world of Weevil, Dick Casablancas, Mac, and the rest of the gang before they are shuffled off to the shadows. It only serves to highlight the biggest issue of the TV series: it’s baffling to see these people bend over backwards to help Veronica out when they get so little in return.

The same really can be said for the nearly 92,000 people who helped get this thing made. They might have gotten their walk on role in the film, digital copy, or other bit of reward for backing VERONICA MARS, but what they got out of it is a half-hearted, half-baked extended episode of the TV show with a central message that seems to be that there is no escaping your past no matter how hard you try. Like almost everyone on screen and behind the scenes, they are doomed to cycle back and get stuck in the same ruts they were in before.

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