‘Tween icon Nancy Drew has been wowing girls since almost forever and spawned many, many movies, TV series and even comics. The new movie, Nancy Drew, enlists the aid of Emma Roberts to bring the character back to the silver screen. While the movie has a square-is-hip kind of oddball charm, if it succeeds in securing an audience, it will be mostly because of its star…
Nancy Drew opens with the earnest girl sleuth not only solving a case, but helping to persuade two thieves to turn on their boos [the police aren’t as interested in them as they are in him], and counseling one thug to seek psychiatric help in dealing with his anger management. When the police chief learns that the Drews will be moving to Los Angeles for a while, he mutters that the force is losing their best man – well, if she’d actually been on the force, or a man…
Unfortunately for Nancy, her plans to spend her time in LA trying to find out more about the death of a glamorous movie star are nipped in the bud by her father [Tate Donovan] who makes her promise that she’ll give up sleuthing – at least while they’re there. Of course, that’s going to happen…
Once the Drews settle into their new home – the former home of the aforementioned movie star – Nancy succumbs to temptation and begins to work the case. Before long, she’s rendering bombs harmless [by dropping them in a sewer]; chasing bad guys in her Nash Rambler roadster [but not going over the speed limit], and dropping in, unexpectedly, on her would-be kidnappers.
Somehow, with all this going on, she finds time to go to school, where her retro look [plaid skirts, penny loafers, and such] earns the ridicule of some of the school’s mean girls. Despite every effort to humble her, the other girls are eventually won over [in part because of the bomb thing, and partly because of a toney fashion store saleslady declaring that Nancy’s look is "The new Sincerity" – but mostly because of a wild party she hosts.
While it’s never in doubt that Nancy will solve the case, find the killer, and find the will that assigns the entire estate of Dehlia Draycott [Laura Elena Herring], the dead star, to her illegitimate daughter, the fun of the movie is supposed to come from the ride. Sadly, in meshing Nancy’s fifties look with modern LA, and playing the character dead straight [if you’ll excuse the expression], the promised culture clash between Nancy’s style and the modernity of LA is really given only the slightest gloss.
Still, there is a lot to like about the film. Nancy is smart and resourceful [Batman’s utility belt should be as well stocked as Nancy’s "sleuthing kit" purse], athletic [climbing, running, driving like A.J. Foyt] and compassionate [see: Dehlia Draycott’s daughter]. She also manages to build a solid professional relationship with one of the local precinct’s sergeants, throw that big party, and present her home’s caretaker, Leshing [Marshall Bell], with the surprise of his life.
While Nancy Drew may not be the best kids’ mystery around, Emma Roberts is a delight throughout. With looks to match her Aunt Julia’s, and chops to match her dad, Eric’s, she makes Nancy completely believable despite the silliness that creeps into the film. Another solid performance comes from Josh Flitter as a twelve-year old [who is in high school because his dad made a few calls] who develops a crush on Nancy and winds up as her sidekick and the film’s biggest source of comic relief.
Director Andrew Fleming [who co-wrote the script with Tiffany Paulsen] gives the film a breezy style that frequently undercuts moments of intended drama and poignancy. As a result, the film needs just a little more weight to really work. Instead, Nancy Drew is a bit of fluff that is really only notable for the performances of Roberts and Flitter. That’s sad, because if the rest of the movie was up to their level of performance, it might well have been memorable.
Final Grade: C+