Rated PG, 99 min. Directed by Andrew Fleming. Starring Emma Roberts, Josh Flitter, Max Thieriot, Rachael Leigh Cook, Tate Donovan, Marshall Bell, Barry Bostwick, Laura Harring, Pat Carroll.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 15, 2007
Historically, Nancy Drew may be the best teen detective around, but in this new screen incarnation she is definitely no spy kid. When compared with Robert Rodriguez’s child detectives, it’s not really a matter of Nancy’s retro look and grounding in the fundamentals of sleuthing that separates the women from the girls (as the saying goes) but, rather, this film’s lack of gaiety and surprise that makes it a dud for old and new generations of the books’ fans. In an attempt to make Nancy Drew more appealing to current tweens, the filmmakers have taken the girl out of pedestrian River Heights (located in one of those flyover states, we’re told) and moved her to Los Angeles, where she attends Hollywood High amid a setting ripe for a remake of Clueless. Given her throwback fashion sense of Fifties-style plaids, pleats, knee socks, and penny loafers (designed by costuming pro Jeffrey Kurland), Nancy appears to her chic classmates as ripe for a makeover. Thank goodness for strong-willed girls: Not only will Nancy Drew solve mysteries that stymie professional crime-solvers, she remains self-confident about her unique fashion identity and exceptional intelligence. Yet this 21st century Nancy Drew seems more about the clothes and other tween concerns than the mysteries and danger that fueled her between-the-covers escapades. Her pals, "tomboy" George and “pleasantly plump” Bess, are reduced to cameos in the film’s opening River Heights sequences. Nickelodeon star Roberts sinks into the role with her natural acting gifts, yet this film affords her little opportunity to stretch beyond the story’s basic narrative contrivance. Nancy, the perennial teen, still tools around in her roadster convertible, but Roberts looks barely old enough to possess a learner’s permit, no less navigate L.A.’s notorious freeways. As Nancy traverses the city solving a Hollywood mystery that has defied professional sleuthers for decades, her target audience is other contemporary teens and not the older women in the audience who, during their own youth, devoured the character's adventures with each passing book. Although hardly clueless, this Nancy Drew seems like she'd be more at home in a movie titled thusly.