Nancy Drew (2007) (DVD)

Spinoff: The Nancy Drew Carey Show.

“It really gets my goat when someone tries to kill me. It’s so rude. But it only makes me want to try harder.”
—Nancy Drew

The classic girl detective Nancy Drew has seen many versions over the years. There’s the original 1930s pistol-packin’ Nancy, the classic four-movie series starring Bonita Granville, the fetching 1970s TV version played by Pamela Sue Martin, and there have been almost 20 Nancy-related computer games released from 1998 to 2007. This is all in addition to scores of books over the years.

The latest take on the character is fish-out-water-Nancy in 2007’s Nancy Drew, in which Nancy leaves her quaint hometown from the books and enters a very modern Los Angeles. There are new friends to be made, new sights to see, boys to crush on, and, of course, a mystery to be solved.

Teenager Nancy Drew (Emma Roberts, Aquamarine) is something of a local celebrity in her small town home of River Heights, where she helps the local bumbling cops solve any mystery that comes their way. Now, Nancy and her father (Tate Donovan, Fired!) are leaving for L.A. for a few months. Because California is apparently more dangerous than River Heights, Nancy’s dad gives her an order: no more sleuthing.

That’s hard for Nancy to do, though. Their rental house in L.A. was formerly owned by a famous movie star, Delia Draycott (Laura Elena Harring, Mulholland Drive), who died under mysterious circumstances. As she investigates behind her dad’s back, Nancy finds those who might be involved, including a single mom (Rachel Leigh Cook, Josie and the Pussycats), a millionaire lawyer (Barry Bostwick, The Rocky Horror Picture Show), and a creepy groundskeeper (Marshall Bell, Art School Confidential).

There’s another mystery for Nancy to solve: modern-day teenagers. High fashion, wild parties, and social cliques are something this girl genius is not used to. She makes some enemies, like mean girl Inga (Danielle Monet, Taking 5), and some friends, like 12-year-old wannabe ladies’ man Corky (Josh Flitter, Snow Buddies). Visiting from home is Ned (Max Thieriot, Catch That Kid), who wonders if he and Nancy might be more than “just friends.”

Nancy Drew has a lot going for it. It has some big laughs, some adventure, a little romance, and an energetic girl hero who drives a cool car. Somehow, though, all the pieces don’t come together as they should. The movie is “pretty good,” when it could have been “really good.”

First the positives: A lot of thought has obviously gone into how Nancy is portrayed on screen. She’s wildly intelligent, and she’s always seen reading or searching the Internet. She’s relentlessly positive, and she jumps into any new situation with enthusiasm. Yes, she’s a little—for lack of a better word—clueless in L.A., but she’s never played as stupid, like the characters from The Brady Bunch Movie were. Nancy knows her clothes are a few decades out of style, but when this is pointed out to her, she just shrugs and says, “I like old-fashioned things.” As the movie progresses, Nancy’s positive attitude and unique sense of self help her out in all sorts of ways. In movies like this, the message is usually something like, “It’s OK to just be yourself.” But Nancy Drew takes that a step farther, with “It’s cool to be uncool.”

Emma Roberts fills Nancy’s penny loafers nicely. She’s able to exert braininess and self confidence in droves, and she spits out lengthy lines of dialogue at a precise, clipped pace, as if she’s a miniature Rosalind Russell remaking His Girl Friday. During the few times that Nancy’s hectic pace slows down a little, we get a few glimpses at what really make her tick, most notably her wondering about her late mother, who died when she was very little. A lot of fictional detectives are haunted by that one case they could never solve, and Nancy’s questions about who her mother was is hers. Note that this isn’t a huge plot point (although it could be in future sequels), but it does provide us a look at who this girl really is, and why she does what she does.

A crew of notable supporting characters surrounds Nancy. The best of the lot is Josh Flitter, the younger, uh, huskier kid who takes a liking to Nancy. Although the humor in this movie is best described as “mild,” Flitter had me laughing throughout, especially with his agree-with-absolutely-everything-the-girl-says-in-a-lame-attempt-to-impress-her shtick. As the romantic lead, Max Thieriot sometimes suffers from blandness, but his character actually serves an important purpose by keeping the action on screen emotional. When Nancy starts rattling off facts and figures about the case, Thieriot’s eyes show that he’s not as interested in the case as he is in the lovely young detective.

It’s in the particulars of this case that the movie gets a little muddled. Is it too much of a stretch to accept that Nancy is not only the one who picked out their L.A. rental home, but also the one who made all the arrangements? Still, the house is supposedly set up with all sorts of theme-park style traps and gadgets to make it look like a haunted house. It’s only once or twice that this device is used, however, making it a missed opportunity. Because the murder victim died years ago, it’s up to Rachel Leigh Cook to provide the audience with an emotional connection to the case. She plays her character as deadly serious, standing in direct contrast to the otherwise silly high school shenanigans happening elsewhere in the film.

For all the talk in this film about Nancy being this amazing detective, it looks to me like she too often finds clues through coincidence, circumstance, and dumb luck. She stumbles onto solutions instead of deducing them. This will make the movie frustrating for mystery fans hoping for the big scene in which the detective informs everyone of who the killer really is, and how she figured it out.

Nancy Drew looks great on DVD, with razor-sharp picture quality. The disc offers both the original aspect ratio as well as a cropped full-screen version. The original is 2.35:1, also known as “scope,” one of the widest available, so the full screen one loses a lot of information. Stick to the widescreen. You’ll thank yourself. Also, the 5.1 sound is crisp and clear, and Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” during the closing credits sounds awesome. The bonus features are disappointingly slight, with a handful of light-substance featurettes, a gag reel, and a music video. Now would have been a perfect time to create an in-depth documentary on the Nancy Drew’s long and colorful history, but no luck.

Nancy Drew is a cute movie, and there are a lot of good things one could say about it. Unfortunately, it seems the creators came up with a terrific character but were unable to build a decent plot for her. I liked the movie, and I can’t help but wonder how it could have been better. Get a clue and make this one a rental.

The Verdict

Although her movie is not perfect, the court is willing to drop all charges against Nancy Drew in exchange for another one of her housekeeper’s delicious lemon squares.

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