Nancy Drew (2007) / Comedy-Mystery

MPAA Rated: PG for violence and brief language
Running time: 99 min.

Cast: Emma Roberts, Tate Donovan, Josh Flitter, Max Thieriot, Rachel Leigh Cook, Kay Panabaker, Laura Elena Harring, Adam Goldberg, Bruce Willis (cameo)
Director: Andrew Fleming
Screenplay: Andrew Fleming, Tiffany Paulsen

Review published June 29, 2007

Very loosely based on the popular series of young adult novels, which began in the 1930s, about the teen amateur sleuth, Nancy Drew updates the setting of the mysteries, while trying to keep the heroine at the heart of the story completely old-fashioned.  She's mannered, resourceful, and tenacious, which makes her a refreshing character to follow as she traverses through perilous situations and eccentric characters galore.  This film version retains that spirit, although nearly everything else is jettisoned in favor of typical teen movie packaging, which will most likely split viewers, depending on demographic.  It's certain better than most tween movies to endure for adults, but the subject matter tends to veer a little too heavy at times to be that frothy dessert flick that would have hit the spot as family fare.

Nancy Drew (Roberts, Aquamarine) is a small-town girl who makes a name for herself solving nearly every unsolved crime in her quaint, down home community.  Her widower father (Donovan, Holy Matrimony) humors her little escapades up to a point, but when he decides to make the move to a big city, Los Angeles, where the criminals are infinitely more heinous, he makes Nancy swear off crime solving altogether.  Square peg Nancy is a bit of a magnet for ridicule, with her penny loafers and goody-good demeanor, but she manages to win over a few friends here and there willing to accept her for her character traits.  With a bigger city comes bigger crimes to solve, and she looks forward to solving one of the most notorious of all, the mysterious life and death of old-time actress Dehlia Draycott (Harring, The Punisher), whose house she just so happens to be living in.

Nancy Drew plays a little like the live-action version of Scooby-Doo, which takes established  sleuthing characters from different eras and wrings them through the typical modern-day formula antics to serve them up with slick contemporary appeal.  Thankfully, the makers of this film understand that young girls just aren't as into potty humor as young boys are, and therefore they sidestep dumbing down the material to employ easy laughs.  Nancy Drew is a comedy and a mystery, although it really isn't very strong as either.  The jokes are mild, and the mystery fairly predictable, but the performance by Roberts as Nancy is nearly enough to get us to like the character and her peculiarities. 

There are moments when the film works, mostly as we watch Nancy interact with her hapless father, or when she tries to blend in with her strained circle of friends.  It plays a bit sitcom, but not poorly.  Alas, it is also wildly uneven at other times, especially as the film draws toward the climax, where Drew gets herself into mortal jeopardy, and the good spirit that the film built up dissipates in a hurry as we watch her fight for her life.  Illegitimate children, murders, ticking time bombs, and other unsavory acts are part of the storyline, and they feel like they belong in a different film altogether.  For a movie that just wants to be a fun time, the mystery at hand is anything but.

In the end, though it's not as saccharine as other tween movies, young girls will probably be the only group that really come away thinking Nancy Drew is smashing entertainment.  I guess in that way, it's somewhat successful, although, given the heavy-handedness and sporadically entertaining delivery, it's not the sort of thing that anyone else could be truly ecstatic about.  The producers of the film nail the casting of Drew, that's for sure, and her character is enjoyable.  It's too bad they couldn't solve the mystery of where to take the film from there.

-- Previous full-length Nancy Drew adventures include Nancy Drew -- Detective (1938), Nancy Drew...Reporter (1939), Nancy Drew...Troubleshooter (1939), Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (1939), and a made-for-Disney TV movie, Nancy Drew (2002).  She has also appeared in two television series, "The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries" (1977-79) and from France, "Nancy Drew" (1996).

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo