Nancy Drew

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/15/07 00:00:00

"Drew gets a clue."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

“I like old fashioned things,” says the title character in “Nancy Drew,” the big screen revival of the iconic girl detective. And with those five words, the filmmakers get it all right. There’s something inherently old school about the character, and while the world around her is up to date, Nancy herself remains the same, cruising from crime to crime in her trusty Roadster, homemade plaid outfits in her wardrobe and boyfriend Ned always in tow. She’s a walking anachronism, and we love her for it.

The premise of this modern update tempts the same level of spoofery that struck the Brady Bunch in the mid-90s: Nancy leaves River Heights for an adventure in Los Angeles, and those modern teens are shocked by her retro style, encyclopedic knowledge, and gee-whiz good manners. But screenwriters Andrew Fleming (who also directed) and Tiffany Paulsen refuse to mock the super-sleuth; they may kid her at times, joking about her knack for trouble and the quaint innocence that surrounds her adventures, but they do so with a kind heart. Instead of a spoof, the filmmakers manage to bring Nancy Drew into the 21st century without forcing her to leave her very Nancy Drewness behind.

As mentioned, the plot of “Nancy Drew” is typical fish-out-of-water fare. We open in River Heights, with Nancy (Emma Roberts) wrapping up the case involving a couple of bumbling burglars who’ve been pilfering from the neighborhood church (how rude!). It’s easy to see why Fleming and Paulsen opted to remove Nancy from this familiar setting - as a hometown, the sugary sweet River Heights is too good to be true in these cynical times, and young viewers unfamiliar with the book might balk.

So it’s off to L.A. (something involving her dad getting a temporary job out west), where the girls dress like Bratz dolls and school officials are unfamiliar with students who actually care. Nancy’s problems fitting in turns out to be a subplot, however, as the real story involves a movie star who used to live in the house the Drews are renting. Seems the star was murdered long ago, but the case was never solved. Never fear, Nancy Drew’s on the case!

(Side note for parents: don’t worry, the “murder” angle is tastefully handled. In fact, for all the seemingly scandalous pieces of the mystery - among them long-lost children and secret love affairs - the filmmakers should be commended for balancing such potentially unseemly content with a refreshing respect for the intelligence of young viewers. All of the girls at the preview audience, including my daughter, seemed to accept the facts of the case with great ease.)

As a mystery, it’s a bit slight, and the whole thing’s riddled with plot holes and too-noticeable gaffes. But as a comic adventure, it’s such great fun that the story flubs never seem to matter. The comedy zings and the action swings, if you’ll pardon the rhyme; “Nancy Drew” is so adamant about being big fun that you get swept up in the lighthearted joy of it all. Like its hero, the film is cheerfully old fashioned - modern technology may help the girl detective out, but it’s classic gumption that does all the legwork. The film’s just swimming in gee-whiz charm, and its knack for great comic timing is a welcome surprise.

Emma Roberts may be more famous now for her movie star pedigree (Eric’s her dad, Julia’s her aunt) than for her actual work (“Aquamarine,” the Nickelodeon series “Unfabulous”), but as Nancy Drew, she sets out on her own. She’s a young star bursting with charisma and screen presence, and here she carefully balances self-parody with a sweet honesty.

As a director, Fleming remains slightly underrated; his best films, “The Craft” and “Dick,” tackled teen-girl issues with wit and verve. “Nancy Drew” joins that lot. The film is clever and winking without ever being overly so, and Fleming’s light touch makes the movie refreshingly friendly and entertaining. He’s managed to make the grand return of the girl detective sly and wonderful without ever presenting itself as just another empty franchise. This is the modern Nancy Drew the way she should be.

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