Veronica Mars (2014) – Rob Thomas

I have never seen an episode of “Veronica Mars,” the mid-2000s TV cult TV show that was so beloved by its fans that they took to the fundraising site Kickstarter to bankroll Veronica Mars (2014), the movie and final episode of the series, barring the emergence of a franchise. Because I am entirely unfamiliar with Veronica, her friends and family, and the lives they lead, I am uniquely at odds at reviewing her movie. The sort of grassroots crowd funding that made the movie possible may be the very reason it’s impossible for the uninitiated to be fair to it. The movie is for “Veronica Mars” fans; it was demanded by them and funded by them. I am not one of them and, after seeing the movie, I’m going to keep it that way.

This isn’t to say that I’m not happy for its existence. The way the movie came to be is inspiring (Spike Lee’s Oldboy, [2013] among countless others, was funded the same way) and the movie industry is long overdue for a little democratic taste making. I just wish that fans of this show had a little better taste. And yet, I’m not sure that that’s fair. I know that Veronica Mars is not a good movie. Is it a good “Veronica Mars” episode? How should I know?

The story follows, naturally, Veronica Mars (Kristin Bell), nine years removed from being a “teenage private eye” where, with the aid of her father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni), a middle-age private eye, she solved crimes in her hometown of Neptune, California (what’s with all the planets?). Apparently, her sleuthdom and the town itself, which is corrupt and depraved in unexplained and seemingly extraneous ways, were damaging to her well-being, and she left them all behind to pursue a career in law, one that is about to get started at an impressive firm in New York. Unfortunately, she is dragged back to Neptune when one of her old boyfriends, Logan (Jason Dohring), is the lead suspect in a murder. Veronica tries to solve the crime and exonerate her friend while staying one step in front of the real killers and the crooked cops while placating her current employer and current boyfriend, neither of whom are pleased that’s she’s traipsing around with old flames 3,000 miles away.

Much of the relationships, backstories and character traits went over my head, which I won’t totally hold against the movie. The Big Sleep (1946) is one of the best movie mysteries of all time and I’ll be damned if I can give you a single detail. The problem with Veronica Mars is not that it doesn’t care to help the Veronica-ignorant catch up (even a “Previously on…” from a TV show would be more helpful), it’s that it doesn’t give us much to want to get caught up in. The mystery, which is over-complicated yet thoroughly obvious, doesn’t hold the attention, and the humor isn’t half as buoyant as it thinks it is. Much of the filmmaking is stilted and awkward, failing to build any momentum of any kind. People talk a lot, but they don’t have much to say, and when they do, it’s at the service of a hackneyed development. Bell is appealing, and she gets the most to work with, but she seems smarter and more responsible than she acts. Her father begs her to get out of town and stay with the New York job, and she says he’s the only person she doesn’t want to disappoint and yet she hangs around Neptune doing what is dangerously close to aiding a fugitive. Her father doesn’t seem disappointed, but I was. 

I’m going to blame my frustration on my being unenlightened on the TV show but must confess that watching the movie gave me no reason to visit Neptune again. Characters, presumably from the show, come and go and cameos add up, inside jokes are shared, and this is all for the benefit of people who aren’t me. This is a movie that exists because fans wanted it to and therefore I don’t get to take part in the spoils. That’s fair. It’s a little like walking in on a stand-up routine, hearing “To get to the other side,” and then complaining because you didn’t get it. Well, I didn’t get Veronica Mars, but I’m OK with that and I applaud what it represents. I am not immune to the exquisite sting of having your favorite TV show ripped away from you simply because the philistines refused to watch it. Thank you, Veronica Mars, even though you wasted my time, you give me hope for Sports Night: The Movie. 

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