When I heard that a Nancy Drew movie was being made, I had envisioned something along the lines of Veronica Mars on the big screen. Of course, I knew that it wouldn't be anything like that, but the Kristen Bell character is similar to what I think a new version of Nancy Drew would be like. What we got was a movie that wasn't quite sure how to handle the character or how to deal with the tone. The end result is a movie that is not terribly bad, but it smacks of a missed opportunity.
The story, which had the working title of Nancy Drew: The Mystery in Hollywood Hills, has the young sleuth moving, temporarily, with her father to Los Angeles for some unspecified job-related reason. Nancy got to select where they were going to live, and true to form, she has chosen this old neglected mansion, which plays host to an unsolved Hollywood mystery. The spacious home was once owned by Dehlia Draycott, a top Hollywood actress who had disappeared for a number of months, only to be murdered shortly upon resurfacing. The long unsolved mystery has tickled Nancy's sleuthing itch and she sets out to find out the truth behind the mystery.
Nancy Drew is not a deep movie, there is little in the way of character development. Actually, there's no character development — what you see is what you get. From the requisite introductory scene through to the final reveal of who was behind everything, you are clued in at every step of the game. Of course, I was not expecting this to be the next Double Indemnity, nor was I expecting to be drawn in by its conventions, since I am clearly not within the target audience. I was just hoping to watch a movie that knew what it was, rather than the scattershot result.
The tone of Nancy Drew seems like a cross between The Brady Bunch Movie, Scooby-Doo, and low rent film noir. While the movie is set in the present day, Nancy is perpetually locked in the 1950s, attitudes, clothing, and all that goes with it. This would certainly open things up for a little comedic bite, but no, not going to go that route, which is a good thing, as I never really pictured her as a comedic target. Then there is the mystery, which does not have a lot of depth and is easy to follow, and the way Nancy and her little gang go about unraveling the clues is not unlike your typical Scooby mystery. During the final third, as the pieces all fall into place, it takes a brief darker turn which seems to be clearly inspired by '50s-era detective stories.
For all of its faults, I did find it somewhat endearing. It wasn't entirely dumb, it wasn't boring, and had a nice colorful look that the young girls at the screening seemed to really enjoy. The performances were decent, if unspectacular. I found myself lulled by the upbeat way in which the movie bounced along. Would I have preferred a movie that was a bit more serious? A bit more focused? Maybe a mystery that felt a little more substantial? Yes on all accounts. Still, It was inoffensive and delivered what the target audience desired. Just, be warned if you are outside the 7- to 13-year-old girl range.
Bottom line. It was an enjoyable diversion that, while nowhere near being perfect, was still enjoyable enough. There was also the cameo by Bruce Willis which may have been the best scene in the film. Not the train wreck I was expecting, but definitely a missed opportunity for something more.