It's hard to knock Nancy Drew. She's unusually smart, admirably confident and has a sixth sense strong enough to scout out any brewing mystery. She also has the looks, the car and the boy. Not bad for a 16-year-old.
Yes, that's how old Ms. Drew is in the new Warner Bros. flick titled after her. Instead of portraying Nancy as the young adult woman found in Carolyn Keene's novels, the studio has decided to shave off a few Drew years in an attempt to make her hipper, funnier and, of course, more marketable.
Unfortunately, she barely looks old enough to get behind the wheel of her Roadster, and when she does, the ride is pretty bumpy.
The film opens with Nancy using her more than mature detective skills to take down some serious criminals in her hometown of River Heights. However, we soon find out she's leaving behind the Heights and heading for Hollywood while her dad finishes some work, and he has made a new rule: No sleuthing. Little does he know she has booked their temporary Hollywood housing, and that it's a haunted old house with -- you guessed it -- a mystery to solve.
As the movie unfolds, we watch as Nancy tries to make new friends and find new hobbies while piecing together a puzzle and narrowly avoiding kidnappings and death threats. Yet, despite all the car chases, crashes and a bomb scare, Nancy manages to chin up and stay positive and upbeat.
One of the film's major flaws is that it desperately tries to cater to the bubble gum, sugary sweet void Hilary Duff created when she left behind famed Disney idol Lizzie McGuire. This version of Drew seems eerily similar to the McGuire mold: a fresh-faced teen who doesn't always fit in with her peers but becomes cool and fashionable in her own unique way. On its own, the movie is a sweet, stereotypical story of tween angst, which might seem like the perfect formula for a summer kid hit.
But then there are the fans who remember the books. After reading several Drew novels as a kid, I remember looking up to Nancy because she wasn't a kid. She was that cool high school or college woman that I wanted to be someday, detective snooping skills and all. I recalled Nancy to be a confident, intelligent young woman with a distinct sense for sniffing out the bad guys and an impressive ability to create justice for all. Although the movie captures the personality traits of Keene's character, its tragic flaw is that it assigns her a new age, thus alienating one audience and targeting a completely different one that has likely never cracked open a hardcover Drew case.
The film did partially compensate for its shortfalls with its cast of characters. Emma Roberts was far too young for the role of Nancy, but she did a wonderful job of bringing Drew's spunky sense of humor and sleuthing to the screen. Tate Donovan, who played the role of Nancy's father, Carson, was perfect as the worrisome dad, and the father-daughter relationship between the two was sweeter than expected. And Josh Flitter, who plays Nancy's slightly obnoxious but well-intentioned friend, provides some much-needed comic relief.
The film definitely had its sweet moments. The mystery Nancy works to solve pulls at your heartstrings occasionally, and Nancy's inability to stay away from clues might make you smile. If her odd age was the only unbelievable premise, the film might have more of a fighting chance.
That's not to say that all movies should have a realistic element to them; some of the best ones contain sorcerers and hobbits. Nancy Drew was never meant to be normal and completely relatable in the books -- heck, anyone who can inhale chloroform and then outrun more "bad guys" isn't even touchable in my book. However, when a slow-motion bomb scene drags on for a cheesy long time and secret hiding compartments seem to pop out like bad cliches, things have nowhere to go but downhill.
Age may just be a number, but in "Nancy Drew," it would have helped if that number were a little bit higher.
2 stars (Out of 4)
STARRING: Emma Roberts, Tate Donovan and Rachel Leigh Cook
DIRECTOR: Andrew Fleming
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
RATING: PG for mild violence, peril and some profanity.
THE LOWDOWN: Nancy Drew, a young detective, tries to solve a Hollywood mystery and murder.