June 16, 2007

Movie Review: Nancy Drew

Posted in Movies at 11:27 pm by Calico Jack

Nancy Drew flagrantly commits the two cardinal sins of book-to-screen adaptations. It mangles the source material, most likely angering the millions of fans who were anticipating a respectful treatment of their childhood memories. But it also can’t stand on its own as a movie, apart from any of the baggage that comes with a popular franchise. The first two Harry Potter films were decent at best, but fans were willing to forgive (or at least overlook) their flaws since they followed the books so closely. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy deviated from Tolkien’s novels in myriad ways, but those films earned their place in movie history as epics for a generation. Nancy Drew is a mishmash of ideas, a movie that condescends to its target ‘tween audience by assuming that (unintelligent script * stereotypical caricatures)^perkiness = a good movie. Now that’s a formula even the on-screen Nancy should be able to figure out.

Emma Roberts (niece of overrated actress Julia Roberts) stars as the 16-year-old titular character, whose skills at solving crimes have made her the darling of the local police force. After catching two bumbling criminals stealing from a church’s coffers, and offering one homemade treats to help him work through psychological issues, Nancy is ready to leave small-town River Heights and travel to Los Angeles for her dad’s three-month business trip. Carson Drew (Tate Donovan), concerned about his daughter’s knack for getting into sticky situations, lays down his version of Daddy Knows Best: “No sleuthing in L.A., and try to act like a ‘normal’ kid” — the latter half being some of the worst parental advice one could possible give. Nancy will have none of the former, but she also faces difficulties fitting in with the rest of humankind. After all, this version of Nancy Drew dresses in ’40s jumpers and penny loafers; thinks building cathedrals out of plywood and oil-painting recreations of Washington’s Delaware crossing are mundane activities; and, most excruciatingly, has a perpetually peppy — nay, chirpy — disposition, leading one to muse that perhaps strangulation isn’t such a bad way for Nancy Drew to go. In short, she’s a social misfit, a ditzy overachiever whose supposed talent for crime fighting is constantly overshadowed by her naivety and jaw-dropping inability to piece clues together, solving a mystery that seems glaringly obvious on the surface, but in fact…actually, it doesn’t get any more complicated than the original setup. And it still takes her an hour and a half to figure out something that the audience should have gotten in the first twenty minutes.

Andrew Fleming, writer and director of this celluloid abomination, doesn’t help our girl heroine much, giving her a flaccid story that provides at most, one thrill: seeing the ending credits start rolling. Carson and Nancy move into an old, decrepit house in north L.A., one which is like every other old house in bad movies: it contains a dark, mysterious secret. Twenty-five years ago, the owner was an actress recently returned from a months-long sabbatical. Soon after her arrival, she was found floating in the bathtub, a victim of an apparent murder-drowning. No one ever solved the crime, but now it’s Nancy’s turn to shine dimly flicker. Helping her in her quest is the most annoying sidekick in recent history, a twelve-year-old chubby kid with the apropos name of Corky (Josh Flitter). He’s the younger brother of the local school’s most popular girl, a fashionista bimbo named Inga (Daniella Monet) whose idea of style is arming herself with enough bangles and scarves (in L.A.?) to deflect a cruise missle. She could moonlight as the L.A.P.D.’s one-woman bomb squad, but I’m sure the producers will save that idea for the inevitable sequel.

After several obligatory high school hijinks reminiscent of an unfunny Mean Girls, insufferable Nancy and her idiotic pals set out on a quest to find the murderer of movie star-cum-floaty bather Dehlia Draycott (Laura Elena Harring, who must have had a hard time finding work after Mulholland Dr. to prostitute herself for this film’s paycheck). The fortuitous arrival of occasional boyfriend Ned (Max Theriot) serves only to give Nancy Drew a laughably atrocious love triangle between two 16-year-old nitwits and Corky…who’s 12. Yep, it’s really tough figuring out which way that one’s heading. More characters pop up, including Rachael Leigh Cook’s worst performance of her career as a single mom with ties to Draycott, and Bruce Willis making a mildly amusing cameo as a petrified version of his usual wooden self. Even the addition of several bumbling criminals (it’s becoming a theme) with a vendetta against Nancy doesn’t spice up the plot, which trudges its way along to a forgone conclusion.

The worst part of Nancy Drew is its butchering of the much-beloved classic novels. The literary heroine was clever and calm under pressure, but also fun-loving and adventuresome. This Nancy is nothing of the sort: lacking her predecessor’s intelligence, she has to rely on a haphazard chain of coincidences to help her solve an uninspired mystery. And it’s an odd juxtaposition when Nancy wears historical clothing and drives a fifty-year-old roadster, but also owns an iPod and MacBook. The producers tried to have the best of both worlds by taking elements from the books and coupling them with a modern script. Unfortunately, they did everything wrong by keeping Nancy’s period clothes but eliminating her intelligence. A truly modernized Nancy wouldn’t be a social misfit at all, but rather a charming, fashionable, poised young woman on the verge of adulthood adroitly solving crimes under the wise tutelage of her father. None of that can be found in this film, which winks at Nancy’s disobedience of her dopey father (she’s only sixteen, not eighteen as in the books) and teaches kids that studios are willing to plunder anyone’s childhood for a quick buck. Nancy Drew is a failure on every level — a perfect contender for worst film of the year.


1 Comment »

  1. Shelly said,

    Amen! This movie was perhaps the worst I’ve ever seen. Not only did it ruin perfectly good books, but it made the 50s look like an era when people were bumbling morons without an ounce of reality. And it makes this generation of tweens appear as if they were insubordinate brats.

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