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The case of the girl detective
“Nancy Drew” acknowledges its storied legacy within its first seconds. The new film opens with a shot of a bookcase, its shelves filled with copies of the classic mystery books. One moves off the rack, and we see the same illustrations of a spunky teenage sleuth that girls have been poring over for decades.
This new Nancy Drew, played by Emma Roberts of Nickelodeon’s “Unfabulous,” doesn’t look all that different from the Nancy Drew many of us remember. She has crawled right out of the 1960s, clothing, manners, roadster and all.
But the movie is very much an update on the series that was created in 1930, revised in the 1960s and on, and has appeared on our screens, big and small, for almost as long.
Nancy’s new sleuth kit has an IPod, to give just one example.
Thankfully, she’s still the fiercely independent girl who doesn’t allow her soft spot for Ned Nickerson (Max Thieriot) to get in the way of crime-solving.
This Nancy is a little younger — around 15 rather than 18 — and leaving the small town of River Heights for a sojourn in Los Angeles with her lawyer father, Carson Drew (Tate Donovan). Popular in River Heights — “Nancy’s my best man. I mean, she would be if she was on the force,” says the police chief — she’s a fish out of water in L.A., no matter how rich her father seems to be.
Nancy may be rather like the 1960s Nancy many of us girls idolized, but in 2000s L.A., that makes her a supergeek. She’s resourceful, she reads, she has good manners. Worse, she wears headbands that match her cardigans.
This Nancy is friendless but for the intrigued Corky (Josh Flitter), a sarcastic 12-year-old who dresses like a movie star. (He’s not a bad sidekick, but he’s no match for the lovable George and Bess from the books, who make no appearance here.)
Nancy has promised her father to stop sleuthing, but she already has rented the pair a house with a mystery: A famous actress (played by Laura Elena Harring, as mysterious as in “Mulholland Drive”) died here more than 20 years ago under suspicious circumstances. When Nancy discovers that the woman left behind a secret illegitimate child (Rachael Leigh Cook, “She’s All That”) her life — just as in the books — soon is in danger.
Die-hard fans of the novels — and this reviewer certainly was one — may not like seeing their idol turned into something of an unfashionable nerd, but anyone who expects a movie made and set in 2007 to exactly mirror books written decades ago shouldn’t be a film critic.
In fact, it’s an interesting twist to have Nancy barely change while the world around her has. And Miss Roberts is so charming as the intelligent, industrious sleuth, it’s hard not to be won over. Even fashion mavens are when her old-fashioned look is dubbed “the new sincerity” and becomes a much-copied L.A. hit.
Barry Bostwick steals some scenes as Carson’s L.A. business associate. Look for cameos from Chris Kattan as a thug and Bruce Willis playing himself.
But this fun film is, as it should be, all Nancy’s.
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