‘Veronica Mars’ movie: An homage to fans, case study for crowdfunding

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Almost exactly one year from the launch of its record-breaking Kickstarter campaign (March 12, 2013), Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell’s feature length movie “Veronica Mars,” had a 291 limited theater release on March 14. Based on the TV show of the same name, the movie revolves around Bell’s reprisal of the titular character who returns to her hometown of Neptune, California – the planets really aligned for that one – in an attempt to help her ex-boyfriend Logan Echolls beat yet another murder rap.

To be completely honest, I was one of the more than 91,000 fans who donated to the movie back in 2013 and one of the 2 million fans who tuned in regularly when the show was still on TV.

Bell became a star playing snarky 16-year-old Veronica back in 2004, and in the seven years since its cancellation, fans have clamored for a movie, or really anything, to have a resolution to the story of their favorite teenage sleuth. And in that respect, “Veronica Mars” delivers: it is a glorious homage to the fans and their dedication to bring the characters back to (any) screen.

The movie opens with a two minute- long barrage of images and anecdotes that explain and summarize the basics of “Veronica Mars: The Series” for any viewers who chose not to marathon the three seasons in the year before the movie was released.

Cut to Bell’s Veronica interviewing for a job at a fancy New York law firm, headed by the great Jaime Lee Curtis. Veronica is dating an old college beau, nice-guy Stosh “Piz” Piznarski (Chris Lowell), enjoying the fruits of her hard work and the lack of contact with Neptune, and the dark underbelly of the beachside community that she was so fond of back in the day.

But, like the noir genre that the show and movie were modeled after, nothing stays sunshine and rainbows for long. Soon Veronica finds out that an old high school classmate turned pop star has been murdered and she flies back home to help former flame Logan – the pop star’s boyfriend – beat the charges.

Despite having the smarts, sarcasm and sass one expects are required to solve crimes, Veronica engages the help of her father and mentor, private investigator Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni) and high school besties, Cindy “Mac” Mackenzie (Tina Majorino) and Wallace Fennell (Percy Daggs III). All of the trouble coincides with Veronica’s 10-year high school reunion, and is complicated by a corrupt sheriff’s office and high caliber conspiracies. The number of familiar faces and TV show throwback cameos suggest that writer-director-producer Th omas was catering to the fans – and especially the Kickstarter backers – and their long-held desires.

The actual mystery of the murder (and murderer) is murky at best and almost a side note. Instead, hardcore Marshmallows – a reference to the pilot episode of the series that the name Mars fans applied to themselves – will have a blast with Thomas’ familiar pun-fi lled writing (“Earth to Mars,” anyone?) and the numerous references to the real world. Kickstarter itself gets a nod, the season four that never was F.B.I. arc was alluded to and Bell’s real-life husband Dax Shepard has a hilarious, goof ball cameo.

The plot suffered from a lack of comprehendible evidence and less than intuitive leaps, but really, plot has never been the draw of “Veronica Mars.” It’s true to form in that the mysteries solved and the secrets uncovered are compellingly campy. Instead, like Joss Whedon’s “Firefly,” “Veronica Mars” draws viewers through character and relationship development. The blood and body count, though unnervingly high, are used to simultaneously draw characters together and rip them apart – a masochistic enjoyment all true Mars fans have developed.

Bell carries the movie like she carried the show. Her chemistry with everyone on screen is dynamic and presents a believable representation of what a former teenage detective turned- Ivy League lawyer might look like. Deciding between high-powered lawyer and hometown hero of the disenfranchised is a familiar kind of theme, but has new meaning when applied to Mars in Neptune. And flying high off of “Frozen” and her critically acclaimed TV show “House of Lies,” Bell is beyond enrapturing.

Can non-Marshmallows comprehend? It is debatable. There is likely to be confusion, although the prologue montage is helpful, and Thomas’ comedic touch goes a long way toward bridging the gap. And though I am biased, I feel confident giving the movie a solid Satisfactory .

For most critics and Hollywood executives, this movie is the first foray into how the crowd funding concept will work. Opening weekend only garnered $2 million dollars for the limited release (a third of the total cost of the movie’s production) but it also debuted on Video On Demand the same day as the theatrical release, which means the real monetary gains will not be announced until Warner Brothers decides to do so. With enough change in the pocket, possible sequels are in the air.

However, as the first movie of its kind and due to the outrageous publicity it has received in the last year, “Veronica Mars” is no longer just a show-turned movie, it’s a brand. In fact, Thomas, along with co-writer Jennifer Graham, is marketing Mars like Nancy Drew; a novel that picks up where the movie left off , “The Ten-Th ousand Dollar Tan Line,” is coming out on March 25 and a CW web series starring Ryan Hanson as Logan’s amusingly chauvinistic, but ever loyal friend Richard “Dick” Casablancas will begin filming in July. Even if a sequel is never made, a franchise has been born.

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