Inspired by the amateur detective of classic girlhood literature reimagined for an ”OMG! BFF!” Nickelodeon crowd in Nancy Drew, I’ve been doing some sleuthing of my own. Why does a movie so dolled up with oodles of stylistic doodles fall so flat? Traditionally a poised square peg in a round hole, nonconformist Nancy in the movie, played by Emma Roberts (a Nick star herself on Unfabulous), retains her endearing time-warp wardrobe, even though she and her father (Tate Donovan) have moved to L.A., where her classmates are twittering fashion slaves and her house is haunted by the ghost of a dead movie star. Nancy’s true-blue admirer from countless books, Ned (Max Thieriot), continues to do his beta-male duty, but now he’s joined by a squat, wisecracking Hollywood kid (Josh Flitter, an acquired taste), whose every gesture hustles a laugh. There’s a through-line, if you squint, between the era-jumbling sensibilities of Nancy Drew and 1999’s Dick, both appreciative of teen girls as cultural commentators and both directed by Andrew Fleming. And Dick rules.
But this movie does not. And the culprit, I’d say, is the uninteresting casting of Miss Roberts in the title role. She’s a pleasant enough performer, but her made-for-teen-TV acting style, a perky blandness, doesn’t supply a clue as to the appeal of Nancy Drew after all these years. C+