Wednesday, 17 July 2024

Lighthearted world of teen mystery fitting for 'Nancy Drew'


But for the Warner Brothers studio putting a timeless literary teen heroine on the big screen, “Nancy Drew” is the kind of production that would more appropriately be running on the Disney Channel or the family hour of a major network.

Though made contemporary for the cinema, the Nancy Drew character emerges from a venerable franchise of books authored under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene, and in the translation to the screen this teen sleuth is realized by Emma Roberts, who fittingly enough has made her mark in the Nickelodeon hit comedy series “Unfabulous.”

For the uninitiated, it should be noted that Emma has a famous aunt by the name of Julia Roberts, and clearly this winsome teenager has inherited some charismatic genes.

Even if it has a strong TV sensibility, “Nancy Drew” has plenty to recommend itself, going beyond its obvious adolescent audience appeal. The film is righteous in its celebration of old-fashioned virtues, namely because Nancy Drew the resourceful teen detective is smart and sensible. She's the very antithesis of Paris Hilton and all the other dimwitted young celebrities who so unfortunately dominate the pop culture with their lack of grace and charm, to say nothing of the complete absence of redeeming qualities.

In what is an almost radical notion, the young amateur sleuth has a mind of her own and a passion for helping people and solving mysteries, all the while remaining true to an honorable code of conduct. Nancy will need all of her virtues when she gets uprooted from her friendly hometown of River Heights, located somewhere in “flyover country.”

After solving one more murder case that baffled local law enforcement, Nancy finds out that her lawyer dad Carson Drew (Tate Donovan) is moving them to Los Angeles for an extended stay. Since Nancy is allowed to pick their temporary residence, they settle on the decaying Draycott Mansion, rumored to be haunted because famous actress Dehlia Draycott (Laura Harring, seen in flashbacks) died there under mysterious circumstances.

Though having promised to give up her detective work and to settle into normal teen living, Nancy is unable to resist a mystery, especially since the house comes equipped with secret passageways and a strange caretaker named Mr. Leshing (Marshall Bell) who has the odd habit of materializing unexpectedly.

Nancy’s biggest challenge is fitting in with new classmates at Hollywood High School, where her unique personal style, which includes wearing retro clothing and penny loafers, sets her apart from her self-absorbed, fast-living peers.

She clashes with fashionistas Inga (Daniella Monet) and Trish (Kelly Vitz), who actually look more like streetwalkers. Excelling in all her academic work and even in an exercise for making sandcastles, Nancy comes off as a female version of Alex Keaton (another TV reference), demonstrating her smarts without fearing rebuke from her contemporaries. That she won’t bend to the will of others makes her so admirable and appealing.

The young sleuth’s tenacious behavior draws admiration from the wisecracking Corky (Josh Flitter), her unlikely new best friend. Though he is considerably younger, Corky has a crush on Nancy, which creates some amusing tension when her longtime confidant and quasi-boyfriend Ned (Max Thierot) shows up on a visit so that he can deliver Nancy’s beloved button-cute roadster, a vintage Nash Metropolitan convertible.

While concealing activities from her father, Nancy’s sleuthing activities pick up steam as she pieces together some important facts that unknown people want to keep concealed. The trail leads to struggling single mother Jane Brighton (Rachel Leigh Cook), menacing thugs who chase Nancy through Chinatown, and the high-powered Draycott estate attorney (Barry Bostwick).

One of the odd things about “Nancy Drew” is that the flashbacks to Dehlia Draycott’s salad days in the film business have the look of the bygone Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s, and yet this was an actress who had her fame in the 1960s and 1970s before dying at a relatively young age circa 1981. Then again, Nancy herself has a personal style more suggestive of the 1950s.

Maybe the real mystery is that “Nancy Drew” is in search of its era, but that will be of little concern for the family audience that should find enjoyment and pleasure in watching a spunky teen saving the day and tidying up a whole bunch of loose ends by doing what she does best.

Tim Riley writes film reviews for Lake County News.


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