Placing the old-style teen super sleuth in a contemporary setting is a risky move, but buoyed by an appealing lead performance, this Nancy Drew update mostly keeps to the spirit of the beloved books.
It's hard to make 16-year-old Nancy Drew (Emma Roberts) look like a fish out of water. I mean, this IS Nancy Drew we are talking about. The same girl who is able to solve any mystery, great or small, with her sharp intellect, quick reflexesand handy dandy sleuth kit. Nancy's lawyer dad (Tate Donovan), however, is a little worried about the danger his daughter keeps finding herself in and decides to take her away from their hometown of River Heights to Los Angeles for a little while, so he can work on a special case. Yeah, like L.A. is a safer place to be. He also asks her not to do anymore sleuthing, at least while they are there. Nancy agrees, in theory, and tries to fit in at her new school, but in her tweed skirts and penny loafers, she sticks out like a sore thumb. That doesn't really bother her, though. What's bothering her is the no-sleuthing promise she made to her father. See, the house the Drews are renting has a whooper of a mystery attached to itand the temptation is just too great not to solve it.
Emma Roberts' acting genetics (from dad Eric and aunt Julia) seem to be working. Without her, Nancy Drew would have been just another bubble-gum movie for the Nickelodeon set. The young actress easily conveys those certain Nancy Drew qualities that make the literary icon so unique, while infusing the character with her own wholesomeness. And she thankfully never turns into an irritating know-it-all. The only drawback is that the 16-year-old Roberts looks about 12, so watching her drive around in the Nancy Drew roadster takes a little getting used to. The rest of the cast, however, don't measure up. They all come off fairly one-note--including the spitfire sidekick, aptly named Corky (The Greatest Game Ever Played's Josh Flitter), the mean girls in Nancy's school (Daniella Monet and Kelly Vitz) and even Donovan as Nancy's well-meaning but clueless dad. Then again most of the supporting players in the books don't add much either. It's really a one-woman show. Only Ned, Nancy's boyfriend back home (played sweetly by The Astronaut Farmer's Max Thieriot), has potentialthat is, if the franchise continues.
Having helmed films such as The Craft and Dick, writer/director Andrew Fleming knows a few things about making youthful movies, but taking on the whole Nancy Drew experience takes some guts. Not only are you dealing with fans all over who remember reading and loving the books, but there's the generation who loved the popular '70s TV series, starring Pamela Sue Martin, as well. Fleming's idea is to give the character a contemporary retooling, cast an up-and-comer already popular with tween set and maintain the essence of the books without seeming dated. Not an easy task, but Fleming succeeds on a few things, namely the choice of leading lady, which we've already mentioned, plus capturing the books' mystery-solving adventurousness, complete with spooky old houses, secret rooms, creepy caretakers, hidden wills, etc. One just wonders why Fleming didn't just keep everything in the Nancy Drew '60s era. The Mean Girls/Beverly Hills, 90120 scenario simply dumbs the movie down. Still, there's enough right about the film to warrant another Nancy Drew mystery, if they stick with what works. Now, let's see what they do with the Hardy Boys spoof starring Ben Stiller and Tom Cruise. Sounds promising.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.