Nancy Drew Review
By Joe Lozito
Kid and "Nancy"
It's hard to believe "Nancy Drew" - the unbearably precocious teen detective from countless books - is almost 80 this year. From Warner Bros' adaptation, she's doesn't look a day over sixteen. And unfortunately, the film isn't likely to appeal to anyone over ten. The problems start early with an opening scene in which Nancy (Emma Roberts) faces off against two thieves pinched from the "Home Alone" playbook (led by SNL's Chris Kattan). Nancy offers them desserts and gets them bickering until the police show up to do the arresting. The scene is cute in a for-the-kids kind of way and sets the tone for a film that will rarely rise above "Scooby Doo"-level mysteries.
The script by Andrew Fleming and Tiffany Paulsen uproots Nancy from her River Heights locale and drops her in - of all places - Los Angeles. It seems Dad, attorney Carson Drew (Tate Donovan, keeping it good-natured), got some nebulous consulting job with dollar signs in his eyes (though the Drews seem to live very, very well). Through a whole host of plot contrivances, Nancy schemes to have her Dad rent a house that "comes with a mystery". You see, Nancy is unhealthily obsessed with "sleuthing" (no kidding, this kid's completely OCD), so much so that her dad has made her promise to quit. Of course, that proves difficult once Nancy learns more about the house's former owner, enigmatic movie siren Dehlia Draycott (Laura Elena Harring from "Mulholland Drive", glamming it up), who died mysteriously years ago.
From here, the film follows a fairly standard A-leads-to-B-leads-to-C structure until the bad guys are brought to justice. It's hard to believe there wasn't a better story in the entire catalog of Nancy Drew books. Director Andrew Fleming (of 2003's "The In-Laws") has some fun with Nancy as a fish-out-of-time (she still dresses like the character from the 50s) but he doesn't do much to elevate the film above TV-movie quality. As Nancy, young Emma Roberts (niece of Julia/daughter of Eric) is appropriately precocious (actually, she's less like a teen girl and more like a short adult), but the script does nothing to develop Nancy's character. Her relationship with doting boyfriend Ned doesn't even have preteen-level chemistry, and her knack for sleuthing is so over-played it nearly makes her robotic. Only young Josh Flitter injects the film with a true dose of comic relief as goofy sidekick Corky.
The film faces a further struggle in that this generation may already have its Nancy Drew, and her name is Hermione Granger. The young "Harry Potter" heroine (embodied commendably on film by Emma Watson) possesses all the spunky energy so desperately lacking from "Nancy Drew". Though still rocking the penny-loafers and knee-high socks, the film attempts to make Nancy relevant: not only does she carry a digital recorder in her sleuthing kit, but she listens to her iPod while IMDB'ing Dehlia's filmography. Of course, that scene brings up a good point: with Google around, who isn't a young detective these days?