In the “Veronica Mars” movie, our heroine is supposedly all grown up, but she still acts like she’s in high school. She certainly sounds like a teenager and faces the same romantic woes in an old love triangle. And her career hasn’t progressed much either, since she finds herself in her fictitious hometown of Neptune, Calif., on the trail of another hot case.
I won’t spoil the details of the murder mystery, because that would be impossible. I had no idea what was going on. Or who the characters were. Or why, despite being in their 20s or 30s, they all seemed to be auditioning for roles on “The OC.”
To those of us who weren’t among the 2 million viewers who tuned into “Veronica Mars” on TV, a series which ran on UPN for three seasons before facing cancellation in 2007, the big-screen adaptation could use some footnotes. Rob Thomas’ feature film debut feels less like an actual movie (it pales even comparison to the poorly reviewed “Sex and the City 2”) and more like an endless panel assembled for Comic-Con.
The early screening I attended on Monday was packed with some of the 91,585 Kickstarter backers who donated $5.7 million to finance the film. Needless to say, they were thrilled just to see the words “Veronica Mars” appear on screen and they hooted and clapped at every character’s entrance, from the once-heartthrob Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) to this safe, yet boring, alternative Piz (Chris Lowell). They even applauded at a surprise cameo from James Franco, although like everybody else in the ensemble, he’s underused.
The fanboy (and girl) affection for a cult TV series doesn’t necessarily crossover into mainstream audiences. And Thomas doesn’t do himself any favors by targeting his feature only to those diehard supporters who wrote his paycheck. When asked by L.A. radio station KPCC if he gave enough thought to potential viewers who hadn’t seen the show, Rob Thomas said, “Not enough,” going on to say that an explanatory intro was added to catch up newbies.
Based on the movie alone, it would seem that Piz isn’t so bad. Why is Veronica so terrible to him? And why is she drawn to Logan, who is suspected of murdering his ex-girlfriend? But to be fair, all the characters are thinly drawn, and the clues in the crime caper are too cartoonish for “Law & Order.”
Even worse, the movie just doesn’t feel cinematic. It’s unclear how Thomas spent his nearly $6 million budget, but it certainly wasn’t on lighting. “Veronica Mars” is so dark, I almost wonder if it wasn’t mean to take place on the planet in its title. (Just look at the drab poster.) Most of Veronica’s scenes are shot in shadows — it’s not to meant to set the mood, because we can’t even see the expressions on her face. Did they film “Veronica Mars” in someone’s closet?
Perhaps foreseeing a marketing challenge ahead, Warner Bros. has given “Veronica Mars” an unconventional release pattern. The film is being handled by the studio’s home video division, where it’s only opening on 270 screens through a special deal with AMC Theatres. It’s also debuting on VOD on the same day.
Movie theater chains have been fearful for years about losing their exclusive window for theatrical releases, but “Veronica Mars” won’t change the business. The press frenzy over its Kickstarter campaign has overlooked the fact that the TV series wasn’t an actual television phenomenon. It was a niche show with vocal fans. In terms of pop culture clout, it ranks behind “Dawson’s Creek,” “Felicity,” “Smallville” and “Freaks and Geeks.”
Still, the “Veronica Mars” movie is nowhere near as terrible as another recent Kickstarter effort, Zach Braff’s “Wish I Was Here,” which was partly funded by $3.1 million in donations from fans and acquired at Sundance by Focus Features. Braff has said that the cash from fans made it possible for him to make the movie he wanted without any compromises. But a studio’s involvement would have probably improved his film—and eliminated some of the more indulgent touches, like all the fantasy scenes featuring Braff in a space suit. And even though a studio would have never greenlit “Veronica Mars,” if one had, it would have ordered major changes to the script.
Collectively, neither “Veronica Mars” or “Wish I Was Here” bode well for the future of celebrity-driven Kickstarter-backed projects. Fans might be willing to part with their cash, but the truth is, the movies made by crowd funding will likely be the ones with the quirkiest YouTube pitches, which doesn’t translate to the best feature-length ideas. The “Veronica Mars” movie feels like attending a reunion for somebody else’s high school.