Running Time 99 minutes
Written by Tiffany Paulsen and Andrew Fleming
Directed by Andrew Fleming
Starring Emma Roberts, Rachael Leigh Cook, Tate Donovan
I was never a follower of the adventures of teen detective Nancy Drew. The Hardy Boys were more my speed. But I have breezed through some of the old books by the pseudonymous Carolyn Keene and seen all four entries in the entertaining 1938-1939 Warner Brothers series starring the charming, self-assured Bonita Granville as Nancy and Frankie Thomas as her long-suffering tagalong boyfriend Ned. Everything seems designed to please and fascinate 10-to-12-year-old girls without encouraging stress or premature hormones, and I see no reason why this harmless trend should end now. But nothing I have come across even begins to sink to the amateurish, rock-bottom, brain-dead bilge Warners has dusted off in the corny, boring and sleep-inducing 2007-style escapades of Nancy Drew redux, called, unimaginatively enough, Nancy Drew. I know this junk is marketed for pulsating pubescents, but why? That’s the only mystery in it worth solving.
For no reason worth repeating, Nancy leaves her all-American town of River Heights, moves to the West Coast, and checks into Hollywood High School, where the futile attempt to bridge the gap between the perky heroine who has been mesmerizing bubbling boppers for 75-odd years with the real-live teeny tarts of today crashes into a brick wall before you can bellow “Yo Britney!” There could have been some generational humor here, but in the incompetent script co-authored by Tiffany Paulsen and the film’s numbing director, Andrew Fleming, Nancy’s new fashionista classmates prize tattoos and Timberlake over salad bars, and ponytail and pierce everything a P.G. camera is allowed to show. Playing Sandra Dee to their Lindsay Lohans, Nancy, in her penny loafers, pleated plaid skirts and cashmere sweaters, is a true geek. What else is a girl to do between date-rape headlines and rock raves but tackle an age-old unsolved murder mystery too baffling for the LAPD? Fortunately, the house her father, noted lawyer Carson Drew, has rented is the former home of film star Dehlia Draycott, who was found dead, floating in her kidney-shaped pool like William Holden in Sunset Boulevard. The house is haunted, natch, so when Nancy is too busy to investigate the strange footsteps in the attic, she does what everybody does in Hollywood if they don’t have the pull to get into Morton’s on Oscar night: taps the walls searching for a hidden staircase. Somehow she also finds the time to visit a movie set, where Bruce Willis invites her to take over the direction. “Excuse me,” says Nancy, “I have to defuse this bomb.” It is not clear if she is referring to the Bruce Willis film or her own.
O.K., I fought it, but could not escape falling rudely asleep several times. When I awoke, Nancy had discovered the dead screen legend had an illegitimate daughter, played by Rachael Leigh Cook with the relentlessly blank look of a drained swamp. Before Nancy finds the late star’s last will and testament in the secret compartment of a Chinese antique shop and nails the killer, she hosts a wild party, trashes the haunted mansion, performs an emergency tracheotomy and draws the police. “Just part of being a non-sleuthing, normal teenager,” says her dad, who throws in the towel before the audience does. Since Nancy Drew has been pulling this kind of stunt for 75 years, I figure, by my math, she’s now about 90 years old. This might explain what she’s hiding under the Peter Pan collars, but it does not explain how her new friends have learned to use the word “Awesome!” Nor does it excuse the employment of an unforgivably hopeless no-talent like Emma Roberts, daughter of Eric and niece of Julia, who plays the title role with a chirpy, monotonous voice like exploding bubble gum. If they went to all the trouble to revive cotton candy, why would they cast a girl without a clue to play a super-sleuth? Maybe the fact that she swallows whole sentences in a single gulp isn’t her fault. With a lummox like Mr. Fleming (who directed and co-wrote Dick, the shabby remake of The In-Laws) at the helm, she’s pretty much on her own without a compass. Everyone else is woefully miscast. Nancy’s father, who was always the voice of paternal reason when played by John Litel in the old black-and-white series, is now Tate Donovan, a callow redhead with all of the authority of a valet parking attendant at Spago. Eschewing an opportunity for political correctness and social relevance, the movie discards Nancy’s best gal pals, Bess and her “mannish” cousin George, the first high-school lesbian in teen literature. They have been replaced by a gruesome midget named Corky (Josh Flitter), who vomits, passes out a lot and seems to stand four feet high and weigh 200 pounds.
Send your teenagers to Nancy Drew if you’re seeking an effective revenge for all their MTV TiVo’s. It’s a movie with the charisma of gangrene.