Hopes get dashed for creating a fresh Nancy Drew movie franchise (there were four such films made in the late 1930’s) with this less-than-perfunctory filmic update of the spitfire sleuth from the revered children’s book series. Making the most of her dad’s new attorney job in Los Angeles, Nancy (Emma Roberts) arranges for the pair (her mom died long ago) to move into a disused mansion formerly occupied by Dehlia Draycott, a famous Hollywood starlet murdered on the property in the early 1970’s.
Nancy breaks her fingers-crossed promise to her dad to “give up sleuthing” and sets about exploring the suddenly spick-and-span estate overseen by one creepy caretaker, Mr. Leshing (Marshall Bell). Secret passages, a projector spooled with one of Dehlia’s old timey movies and plenty of “clues” send Nancy on a mission to solve the enigma of Dehlia’s death and locate her undiscovered daughter, the recipient of Dehlia’s hidden will.
At Hollywood High, Nancy’s stylish but outdated mode of dress makes her a prime target for dumb-and-dumber girlfriends Inga (Daniella Monet) and Trish (Kelly Vitz) who seem like they stumbled onto the wrong studio lot. There are few characters more rejected by their own movie than these two examples of female teen detritus.
But Nancy suffers fools gladly as is further evidenced by her bizarre affinity for Corky (Josh Flitter) a romantically pushy 12-year-old brother to one of the dumb girls. Much of the intended humor comes from Corky’s insistent passes at Nancy that she ambivalently accepts, even in the presence of her unmistakably whipped boyfriend Ned (Max Thieriot) when he delivers Nancy’s hallmark blue roadster from the small town of River Heights. Thieriot plays the thankless role with poker-faced modesty that belies the subtle humiliations his character chronically suffers.
The incoherent tone of the movie swings wildly between herky-jerky car chases, melodramatic ruses and Nancy’s lifesaving propensities that find her inexplicably performing an emergency tracheotomy with a ballpoint pen on the throat of a suffocating partygoer. The filmmakers flagrantly overlook the fact that many parents, who grew up reading Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, will resent the spastic storyline that bears little resemblance to any of the formulaic books.
It seems the farthest thing from rocket science for a skilled screenwriter to take any one of the nearly 200 Nancy Drew books and adapt it for modern film audiences. Instead, director/co-writer Andrew Fleming and Tiffany Paulsen have created a Frankenstein mishmash of teen movie tropes that resembles Nancy Drew only by way of costume designer Kathy Lucas’ smart designs.
Children’s book series like The Three Investigators and Nancy Drew may not assimilate as “literature,” but they are far more possessed of ethics than most modern day children’s books. It’s an utter embarrassment that this movie should even carry the Nancy Drew name. MTW