Showrunners really shouldn’t be allowed to direct the movies spun out of their TV shows. Enjoyable as it was, Joss Whedon’s Serenity was a lens flare eyesore, while Rob Thomas’ Kickstarted revival of Veronica Mars never works up the courage to be a real film. Constructed around a “where are they now” premise–there’s even a 10-year high school reunion the eponymous (former) high school PI wants to avoid–the film saunters. Occasionally, it scratches at the loftier ideas the show hit on, but only as a reminder to fans already inclined to watch the thing.
Thankfully, Kristen Bell’s semi-successful stint in rom-coms hasn’t diluted the raspy bite to her voice. As Veronica, she narrates with an often-dry, ironic commentary; actual dialogue consists of terse exchanges with her father, former classmates and friends, even would-be employers. Like other heroines of the Whedon milieu, she’s self-aware, too, a fact which, coupled with hindsight, works to Thomas’ advantage: drawn back to her stratified California hometown to clear her ex, Logan, of murder, Veronica’s predicament is likened to an alcoholic in a bar. Like many addicts, Veronica knows from experience what embroiling herself in Neptune, CA’s class-conflict will result in, but compulsion gets the best of her. Soon, she’s making excuses and pleading for leniency, then ignoring calls from the law firm which offered her a job and brushing off a comfortably nice boyfriend before, finally, she rationalizes her decision to return to the life she swore off. Her ending monologue comes across comfortably resigned to this cycle of relapse, self-destruction, recovery.
If Thomas had stuck solely to murder mystery-cum-psychodrama, Veronica Mars the movie would’ve been fine, yet we live in the age of the franchise, the reboot, and the tacked on world-building. It’s not enough there’s already 3 seasons of foundation, audiences have to be prepped for more to come. Subplots are setup solely for sequel grist: a crooked Sheriff’s Department performing stop & frisks help frame a former biker friend of Veronica’s, which relates to a case her father is working on with “a man inside.” Half hour from the endpoint, these confluent events tease an obliterated status quo, leaving a minor character dead and a major one hospitalized. Resolutions are off the table, though, to be continued in a possible sequel or series reboot. Filler to prepare for an underwhelming slasher climax where Veronica gets to turn the tables on a killer (botched if only because it starts with her cornered then escaping and ambushing the culprit, diffusing any attempt at tension). This is where Thomas could’ve used an actual director: someone to chop off the loose bits, or those which would only please fans, and reconfigure the script until it was tight. Someone who would’ve extended that gritty, 80s Joel Silver sheen from neon-saturated nights into the sunny days the film largely operates in. Someone who would rather have one excellent sendoff to a cult hit than a meager mass of carrots saying, “Maybe there’s more to come.”