Nancy Drew is, of course, the teenage girl detective of young-adult fiction who has been a fixture of kiddie bookshelves since the 1930s, when the first Nancy Drew movies appeared with Bonita Granville. Add this new Nancy Drew feature to the increasingly long list of oh-so-clever Baby-Boomer-baiting remakes, hustling brand-name pop-culture icons that want to both celebrate the original and make fun of their antiquated period nostalgia. Remember the post-modern Brady Bunch movies? Revivals of Leave It to Beaver, Josie and the Pussycats, Thunderbirds, Scooby-Doo? Even Brooke Shields as Brenda Starr (this last one is not as bad as its reputation, is you’ve ever read the cornball newspaper strip it’s extracted from)? The they’re-so-square-they’re-hip joke is getting a bit old, and that’s about the verdict on this latest camp-comedic remake (more precisely, re-re-remake).
After a precocious career solving every crime possible in her Eisenhower-era hometown of River Heights, brave, brainy, absurdly self-possessed star crimebuster Nancy (Emma Roberts, daughter of Eric Roberts and niece of Julia) relocates with her widowed father (Tate Donovan) to Los Angeles, for dad's new job in a law firm. Nancy announces her retirement from sleuthing. The absurdly prim, high-achieving Nancy is, of course, a misfit in the trendy terrain of her West Coast high school, with its MySpace mean girls and trendoid classmates and belly shirts and Blackberries. But almost at once Nancy’s got another mystery to solve, one about a long- vanished movie starlet and her missing will.
In-joke elements from the Nancy Drew-niverse such as a haunted mansion, hidden staircase and a Chinese box make their appearances, as well as cameos by Bruce Willis, some Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players, and tons of product-placement advertising. But no, the band Tuscadero doing their “Nancy Drew:” song does not appear on the pre-teen-baiting soundtrack. At least somebody’s keepin’ it real.
Gags are mostly tolerable, if one-note, and the zippy narrative chugs along just like Nancy's Pee-Wee- Hermanesque vintage roadster (law-abiding Nancy refuses to get into a car chase that exceeds the speed limit). Undemanding kids will probably like it, and there’s little for adults to object to. Except maybe the overall unoriginality and the looming shadow of needless, cheeky megabucks remakes of The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown down the pike, once the spawn of Brad and Angelina get old enough for their SAG cards.