In an age when butt thongs and belly-button jewelry are de rigueur for both prostitutes and tween-age girls, Andrew Fleming's charming spin on the much-loved teen-girl detective books is a breath of fresh air. This modern-day Nancy not only favors penny loafers over flip-flops and prefers smart jumpers and sweater vests to $300 low-rise jeans, but she's smart, resourceful, courteous and secure in her love of all things vintage. She doesn't even own a cell phone. Parents, rejoice: Nancy Drew is here.
True to the long-running book series, Nancy (Emma Roberts, Nickelodeon star and Julia's niece) lives in idyllic, small-town River Heights, where petty crime is sufficiently rampant to keep a girl sleuth busy, but bad guys don't carry guns. After helping the police nab a pair of bickering burglars — she even negotiates a deal with the DA while being held hostage — Nancy must put away her sleuth kit, pack up her '60s-inspired wardrobe and say goodbye to her kinda-sorta boyfriend Ned Nickerson (Max Thieriot). Nancy's lawyer dad, widower Carson Drew (Tate Donovan), is temporarily relocating to California for business, and makes her promise there'll be no sleuthing while they're away: Snooping in L.A. gets people shot. But when crime is afoot, there's no keeping a smart, inquisitive girl down. Unbeknownst to her father, Nancy has arranged for them to stay in a spooky mansion once owned by legendary screen star Dehlia Draycott (Laura Elena Harring), whose suspicious drowning in her own pool 25 years earlier remains one of Tinseltown's great unsolved mysteries. After a sincere but failed attempt to fit in like a "normal" teenager — the mean girls of Hollywood High laugh at her clothes and watercress tea sandwiches, and while Nancy's feelings are dinged, she doesn't really care what anyone thinks (you go, girl) — Nancy's on the case.
Cowriter-director Fleming (THE CRAFT, DICK) makes concessions to the present — Nancy's kit now contains an iPod, and she does her share of Veronica Mars-style investigating online. But enough of the old standbys are here to give adults a nostalgic rush: the requisite creaky old mansion, the hidden passageway, the missing will and a creepy old caretaker (Marshall Bell). And, of course, Nancy is never without her flashlight. Nancy's suspiciously mannish gal-pal George (Kay Panabaker) makes a brief appearance as a demure young lady at the beginning, but sidekick duty is taken over by Josh Flitter (THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED), a kid with impeccable comic timing. The movie's refusal to treat young girls like silly tramps-in-training is almost radical: It's just good, clean fun and actually offers children of a certain age a role model even adults can feel good about. leave a comment --Ken Fox