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Nancy Drew Movie Review

originally posted many years ago

The modern take on a beloved child detective has two major problems. First, it can't decide if it's an homage to the old-school style of the sleuth or a revisionist version that pokes holes in the nostalgia. The script by director Andrew Fleming and Tiffany Paulsen (working off the character created by Mildred Wirt Benson, her penname Carolyn Keene, Edward Stratemeyer, the Stratemeyer Syndicate, or whoever you want to credit) plays both sides, abruptly shifting between them. No matter which angle it decides to play at any given moment, one must give the movie credit for treating the material lovingly and not outright mocking it. That first problem seems a minor quibble compared to and is probably the reason for the next, though. Nancy Drew is lacking energy. Not the titular character, mind you; she's charming and perky and everything you'd think Nancy Drew would be. The movie contains a few witty bits and occasionally fun moments of detective work, but it slogs its way through them all. It's diverting without ever being enjoyable, clever without being funny. The whole affair just never finds its footing.

Nancy Drew (Emma Roberts) is a headline-grabbing hero in River Heights, solving cases the local law enforcement can't. She manages to talk two crooks out of a hostage situation and into therapy in the movie's opening moments, which also introduce us to her sleuth kit that contains a flashlight, a digital recorder, a rappel line, and, of course, her maid's lemon bars. Nancy and her father (Tate Donovan) are about to leave the suburbs on a business trip to Los Angeles. Her semi-boyfriend Ned (Max Thieriot) is worried about her moving and gives her a new compass before she goes. After the excitement and risk of the hostage situation, her father asks Nancy not to sleuth anymore, which is easier said than done. See, as part of the original father-daughter deal, Nancy got to choose the house they would live in, and it happens to be the home of one of the biggest unsolved cases in Hollywood: the murder of actress Dehlia Draycott (Laura Elena Harring). Nancy tries. Oh, does she try, replacing her copy of Everything Is Evidence with a woman's magazine, but the house, complete with hidden passageways, attics full of evidence, and a "strange caretaker" (Marshall Bell), is too much of a temptation.

Her detective work brings her to a slew of leads: Dehlia's daughter Jane (Rachel Leigh Cook), adopted soon after her birth, the actress' former agent Mr. Biedermeyer (Barry Bostwick), happy to talk to Nancy except when she needs to talk to him, and an assortment of thugs looking to do the junior detective in. [PAGEBREAK] "Usually when someone tries to kill me, it means I'm on to something," Nancy observes in a matter-of-fact way. She's promised her dad, though, and the inability to hunt down the intended recipient of an old letter from Dehlia found in one of her old books keeps Nancy up the entire night before her first day of class. When Nancy reaches school, it's a whole different field. She's a classic overachiever, out-answering, out-running, and out-constructing her peers. She makes a friend in Corky (Josh Flitter), a chubby twelve-year-old who admires her ("The ability to sleuth is an attractive quality in a woman.") and is constantly, sometimes annoyingly commenting on the situations in which he and his new friend find themselves. His sister Inga (Daniella Monet) isn't much of a fan of Nancy's conservative attire and attitude, and here's where the movie's second approach comes into play.

The mystery is the necessity, and the culture clash is the way to give the material a modern flair. The mesh never comes together satisfyingly. The movie jumps between scenes of Nancy's detective work and her new social life without grace, and most of the latter scenes feel like obvious filler. When the two worlds do occasionally meet, the results usually fair better. At Nancy's birthday party, she has to perform an improvised tracheotomy, complete with a disclaimer that only those with experience should attempt it. It's also amusing how Nancy must always drive the posted speed limit, even if she's chasing or being chased by someone who's tried to kill her. Less effective is a slow-motion sequence of Nancy trying to dispose of a bomb while Inga wonders out loud if Nancy and Ned are more than friends. With a few exceptions, the blending falls more in line with that scene, and an earlier scene in which Nancy is on hold with 911 for over an hour to report her stolen moccasins only to be laughed at seems a flash of what Fleming and Paulsen were actually attempting with the script.

Emma Roberts (who, I believe I am legally obligated to tell you, is Julia's niece) is just right for the role of Nancy-wholesome, perky, and charming-but her performance ends up being a sharp contrast to the movie she's in-wholesome, yes, but far less perky and charming. The ending of Nancy Drew promises a sequel, and one can hope it learns that Nancy Drew can exist in the modern world without it commenting on her or vice versa.

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