top of page
  • Writer's picturePopEntertainment

Nancy Drew (A Movie Review)

Updated: Aug 7, 2023


Starring Emma Roberts, Josh Flitter, Max Thieriot, Tate Donovan, Rachael Leigh Cook, Danielle Monet, Kelly Vitz, Barry Bostwick, Kay Panabaker, Cliff Bernis, Laura Elena Harring, Caroline Aaron, Pat Carroll, Chris Kattan, Adam Goldberg and Bruce Willis.

Screenplay by Andrew Fleming and Tiffany Paulsen.

Directed by Andrew Fleming.

Distributed by Warner Brothers Pictures. 99 minutes. Rated PG.

Nancy Drew, girl detective, is one of the defining characters in literature for young girls. There are more than 100 Nancy Drew Mystery books which have been written since the 1930s.

The character has also done her share of time on TV, from the 50s serials that ran on the Mickey Mouse Club through the most recent incarnation in the late 70s – The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries in which Pamela Sue Martin played the girl sleuth. There was also a French series about the character in the 1990s and a TV movie just five years ago. Nancy has even become the heroine of a very popular series of computer games.

The one thing which Nancy has never been was the star of a major motion picture. (Though there were three hour-long films about her in the late 1930s.)

Until now, that is.

I wish I could say that Nancy Drew the movie was worth the wait, but even as a very casual fan (as a boy I read The Hardy Boys, not Nancy, but I do have a basic knowledge of her world) it seems like a bit of a blown opportunity.

Rather than play it straight, the writers decide to make Nancy Drew more of a comedy, co-opting the vibe of The Brady Bunch Movie, in which a square old-fashioned character is plunked down in the middle of modern-day Los Angeles. (Nancy's old co-horts, the Hardy Boys, also seem to be getting this type of post-modern makeover in the planned Tom Cruise/Ben Stiller film Hardy Men.)

This type of thing can be pulled off well (again, I have to point to The Brady Bunch movies), but more often the joke wears off long before the movie finishes. (For examples of this style gone bad, check out Starsky and Hutch, The Beverly Hillbillies, Charlie's Angels and way too many others to mention.)

In fairness, Nancy Drew is much better than those last three films – though not as good as the Bradys.

On the plus side, star Emma Roberts (of TV's Unfabulous, daughter of actor Eric Roberts... and, yes, as every story has to point out, niece of Julia Roberts) has a natural sweetness and charm that bodes well for a long career. She takes the role with the utmost seriousness and single-handedly makes the movie worth seeing.

Sadly, the comic bits diminish the classic characters and the whole raison-d'etre for Nancy. The mystery is not taken seriously enough – in fact, it's kind of dumb – and it seems like Nancy just stumbles over some of the biggest clues. This lack of concern with the spine of the story seems a wasted opportunity. The Nancy Drew books never took themselves too seriously or were too deep as far as plotlines – but they did recognize that the mystery was the most important aspect.

The storyline – or as close to a storyline as it has – is that Nancy's lawyer father (Tate Donovan) gets transferred to Los Angeles and leaves it up to Nancy to pick the house. Nancy, being addicted to puzzles, rents the home of an actress whose death is one of the great unsolved murders in Tinseltown.

The one rule that dad has for his budding sleuth – no more mysteries while in the City of Angels, so Nancy must hide that she is looking into the cold case. (Which is an odd theme which recurs throughout the film. As I said before, I only have a layman's knowledge of the earlier versions of the series, but I was always under the impression that Mr. Drew was very supportive of his daughter's investigations.) She leaves behind the world's wimpiest boyfriend and her impossibly old car and goes to the big city.

This sense of anachronism runs throughout the film, hitting the point that it becomes distracting. The storyline claims that the actress at the heart of this ghost story mystery died at 43 in the mid-80s, though most of the film clips and photographs of her make the starlet appear to be from the 40s or 50s.

In the modern world, the eternally chipper and excessively clever and resourceful young girl deals with a lovestruck, wise-cracking twelve-year-old (Josh Flitter) stuck-up girls (Danielle Monet and Kelly Vitz), unmarried mothers (Rachael Leigh Cook), non-life-threatening hoods and an overly friendly lawyer (Barry Bostwick).

Nancy uses her own deductive reasoning and a series of MacGyver-esque contraptions to get to the bottom of things. Most of these girl-scout tricks are clever, but some of them are just odd – like the scene where Nancy has to give a girl a tracheotomy with a pen during a party. Really, why was that in this film?

Nancy Drew ends up being a cute enough movie – one that will probably more than satisfy the tween-age girls it is targeted for – but the character and the star deserved so much more.

As a special extra, the pay-per-view release of Nancy Drew is called the "Drew's Clues" edition, in which the movie is given the pop-up video treatment. Trivia facts that are tossed out for the audience, ranging from very interesting little factoids about the stars and characters to somewhat unnecessary fluff – for example, they point out nearly every single one of the 27 times that Nancy changes outfits in the movie. Still, the Drew's Clues add a sense of fun and intrigue for hardcore fans and will be particularly effective in spicing up repeat viewings.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2008 All rights reserved. Posted: March 18, 2008.

40 views0 comments
bottom of page