If my expectations weren't exceeded, they were certainly met. "Nancy Drew" works both as a mystery and a comedy. It pays homage to the books it was based on and spoofs them at the same time. The movie starts with a close-up on a book shelf and an animated credit sequence resembling illustrations from the books. It then begins lampooning the books immediately. Writer/director Andrew Fleming seems to realize the idea of a teenage girl regularly breaking up crime rings in a small town is ridiculous, so he doesn't treat the idea religiously. He pokes fun at Nancy Drew's ability to do anything, such as ace every class in school, know which baked treat is perfect for converting any enemy to her side, make a bird house with twelve flying buttresses, and even perform an emergency tracheotomy at a party. Nancy'd always be in perfect style, if she were living in the wholesome 1950's instead of present day L.A. And she carries around a "sleuth kit" complete with fingerprinting dust, flashlight, compass, and magnifying glass. Preposterous, of course, but I seem to remember the Hardy Boys' access at any given moment to CSI equipment being a little too convenient as well. And if the perky pipsqueak private eye is a little younger than her literary counterpart, it's just more comedic exaggeration on the movie's part.
The mystery of the movie is handled more seriously. Nancy and her lawyer father move from their small town to Los Angeles, where Nancy digs into a cold case involving the murder of a Hollywood movie star who lived in her new house decades ago. Nancy searches for clues in some pretty practical ways, such as surfing websites like Google and this one and watching old videotapes of the victim's movies. When she does something more out of the ordinary, you have to admire the girl's resourcefulness. Emma Roberts, an undeniably cute kid, plays the pint-sized amateur sleuth beautifully. She makes the too-perfect girl completely lovable, if not completely realistic. Tate Donovan is also great as the too-perfect girl's father, Carson Drew. He's an ideal father figure without being unrealistically perfect, and he shows reasonable concern for his daughter as she gets into danger. Less likable is Max Thierot's take on Ned Nickerson, Nancy's boyfriend. I much preferred George O'Hanlon Jr.'s portrayal in the 1970's TV series starring Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy Drew, in which Ned was a gawky, awkward kid with a little crush on Nancy. The character of Corky (Josh Flitty), a twelve-year old with a crush on Nancy, is much less annoying than Max Thierot's Ned. Amy Bruckner and Kay Panabaker seem appropriately cast as Nancy's gal pals Bess and George, but they only make brief cameos at the beginning of the film.
Speaking of cameos, Chris Kattan (SNL), Eddie Jemison ("Ocean's 13"), and Bruce Willis all make surprise guest appearances, which just proves you never can guess which movie Bruce Willis will pop up in next.
The movie does fail to live up to some potential. It's mentioned early on that the Drews' new house is heavily booby-trapped, but Nancy and her father are done with tripping over booby traps a few minutes after that. Also, Nancy describes the cold case she's about to investigate as a murder taking place at an extravagant party, which should yield plenty of potential murderers, but she only encounter a handful of suspects. And while there's some moments of real suspense during Nancy's adventures, the solution to the case comes out of nowhere, and in the end all possible plot threads are tied up too conveniently and who-cares-who-done-it. Ralph Sall's score adds to the movie's suspense, but the contemporary teenybopper songs woven into the soundtrack are lame. Still, I really enjoyed this film, and while the movie is aimed primarily at tween girls, people of any age and gender can enjoy it.
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