Millions of kids have read Caroline Keene’s Nancy Drew mysteries, and millions more have seen one of the countless film/TV iterations of the character. Bonita Granville epitomized the girl detective in the late 30’s. Pamela Sue Martin carried the torch for my generation in the 70’s. And now, today’s kids will doubtlessly associate Emma Roberts with the famous sleuth. Nancy Drew (on DVD beginning March 11) is the latest incarnation, and it’s faced with the daunting task of bringing an admittedly old-fashioned concept into the modern age.
The film’s solution is to approach it with humor. This Nancy is a wholesome, mystery-loving small-town girl who moves with her father Carson (Tate Donovan) to California. Her retro look and complete lack of attitude stand out against her ultra-fashionable, designer-label obsessed contemporaries. (Nancy shows up for school on her first day looking like a flight stewardess circa 1972.) Whereas her peers carry pagers and iPods and cell phones, she hauls around a sleuthing kit and metal containers full of snacks.
Nancy and her dad move into an old house that once belonged to Dehlia Draycott, a movie star who died mysteriously years before. Against Carson’s wishes, she begins trying to solve the mystery of the actress’s death. Helping her out is a misfit classmate, Corky (License to Wed’s Josh Flitter) and her hometown boy-crush Ned Nickerson (Max Thieriot). Their investigation reveals secret passageways throughout the house, a missing will, and, of course, a conspiracy.
Nancy Drew is one of those movies that gets about half the stuff right and the other half wrong. I liked the whole idea of a movie-related mystery. It’s different, fun, and – let’s face it – kind of irresistible. Nancy watches a lot of Dehlia Draycott’s old films and finds clues within them, which I think is a really clever idea. I also thought that Emma Roberts was a decent choice to play Nancy. I’m not particularly familiar with her other work, but she struck me as having the right sense of inquisitiveness needed for the role.
What I didn’t care for so much was the movie’s attempt to pander to the youth audience. Nancy Drew is a character for the ages, but Nancy Drew clearly wants to appeal only to the tweens. There are lots of pop music montages, timely adolescent cultural references, and desperately trendy dialogue. At times, it felt as though the screenplay must have been written in text message-speak. The whole thing is just so, like, OMG, IMHO. LOL. I wish the film as a whole had been pitched a little more broadly, so that adults could relate to it as much as the 12-year olds will.
To be fair, Nancy Drew will work big-time for its target audience of young girls. For adults, there are some pleasures to be found here and there, but parents won’t be blown away by it the way their daughters will.
( out of four)
Nancy Drew is available on a single-disc DVD in both widescreen and fullscreen formats. Sweetening the deal is a series of bonus material that, while too rudimentary for film-loving adults, will nevertheless prove insightful and entertaining for kids.
The featurette “Nancy Drew: Kids at Work” focuses on the young actors who comprise the majority of the cast. “Our iPod Ideology” has five of the stars revealing what songs they listen to on their MP3 players. (I’ve never seen that on a DVD before!) “Nancy Drew’s Detective Kit” features Emma Roberts discussing the much-featured prop from the film and showing what all it contains. “Day on the Set” takes viewers through a typical workday for Roberts, from hair and makeup to stunt and special effects work on set. The last featurette, “Emma’s Last Day,” documents the day she wrapped production.
The DVD also includes a gag reel (which mostly consists of Josh Flitter dancing or goofing around) and a music video for the song “Pretty Much Amazing” by Joanna, which serves as the movie’s theme song. All in all, the DVD package is well-designed and should hit the bulls eye for the core audience.
Nancy Drew is rated PG for mild violence, thematic elements and brief language. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.
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