Combustible Celluloid
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With: Emma Roberts, Max Thieriot, Rachael Leigh Cook, Tate Donovan, Laura Elena Harring, Josh Flitter, Craig Gellis, Rich Cooper, Amy Bruckner, Barry Bostwick, Kay Panabaker, Cliff Bemis, David Doty, Monica Parker, Caroline Aaron, Marshall Bell, Daniella Monet, Kelly Vitz, Adam Goldberg, Chris Kattan, Bruce Willis
Written by: Tiffany Paulsen, Andrew Fleming, based on stories by Mildred Wirt Benson/Carolyn Keene
Directed by: Andrew Fleming
MPAA Rating: PG for mild violence, thematic elements and brief language
Running Time: 99
Date: 06/15/2007

Nancy Drew (2007)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Sweet Sleuth

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's sadly plausible that director Andrew Fleming (The Craft, Dick) and co-writer Tiffany Paulsen would update Carolyn Keene's original Nancy Drew (created in 1930), and dumb her down for a younger audience with a shorter attention span. But even though they have given her a cell phone and other digital crime-solving devices, they have opted to keep a good head on Nancy's shoulders. She remains unaffected and unfazed by modern contrivances, able to see through them as if using an X-ray magnifying glass.

Crafty Nancy (Emma Roberts) enters the picture fully formed (no prologue necessary). She solves a crime, negotiates with the robbers and scales down the side of a building before leaving her hometown of River Heights for Los Angeles, where her lawyer father (Tate Donovan) has picked up some temporary work. He makes her promise not to sleuth in the big city, but Nancy has already found a mystery in their rented house. Decades earlier, a movie star (Laura Elena Harring) disappeared, then turned up murdered. Nancy tries to figure out whodunit and why.

Fleming creates a clever, snappy, self-aware picture in which Nancy thrives. She's bubbly and old-fashioned, but she serves as the unflappable center to a screwball universe. When she visits a movie set looking for clues, she interrupts a take by correcting a continuity error. The movie star (I'll leave the identity as a surprise) likes her spunk and asks her if she'd like to take over as director.

Nancy Drew is filled with such nifty, often visually astute moments, but sadly, Fleming doesn't fully trust his own plan. He dilutes the mix with bits of flabby, kid-friendly slapstick. A comical kid sidekick (Josh Flitter) turns up for no reason, and the story stops dead for certain scenes (like a birthday party) and some relationship issues between Nancy and her pal Ned Nickerson (Max Thieriot). The film goes especially lumpy toward the end, including an out-of-place, touchy-feely coda in which the story's victim (Rachael Leigh Cook) puts her new windfall to good use. Nancy herself surely would have sniffed out and solved these inconsistencies, and such competence makes her movie very much worth investigating.

Note: Writing under the pseudonym "Carolyn Keene," journalist Mildred Wirt Benson (1905-2002), published the first Nancy Drew book in 1930 and wrote 22 more over the years. Apparently, Benson continued to publish a weekly column in the Toledo Blade all the way up until her death. In 1938 and 1939, Warner Bros. produced four "B" movies starring Bonita Granville as Nancy (Warner Home Video has recently released all four films in a two-DVD set.) Strangely, except for afew TV movies and a series, the character has never returned to the bigscreen until now.

DVD Details: Warner Home Video's 2008 DVD release is kinda skimpy and caters to teenage girls, which is fine, but it discredits a good, unsung movie. Extras include several behind-the-scenes featurettes, which show lots of actual on-set footage, but are edited and arranged for maximum cute. There's a gag reel, and a music video by Joanna, not to be confused with Joanna "JoJo" Levesque. (The poor video consists entirely of clips from the movie.) Despite all this, it's a worthy rental.

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