You may be surprised it has taken this long to bring the Nancy Drew series of mystery novels to movie screens, but finally the young detective from River Heights is getting a chance to sleuth in cinematic form.
In this first outing, Nancy (Emma Roberts) follows her dad, Carson (Tate Donovan) on an extended business trip from their Midwest small town to Los Angeles. Arriving in the big city via passenger rail (one of the many ways this film cleverly weaves Drew's original time era into the present day) the pair find their rental home -- an "only in the movies" classic fixer-upper in the heart of Hollywood. Nancy had a hand in choosing their new digs and picked it because she'd learned the mansion contained a mystery. Her suitcase is hardly unpacked before the amateur detective is on the trail of a case involving the home's former owner, a murdered movie star.
Nancy's father has different plans however, and has firmly told his daughter he doesn't want any sleuthing happening while on the west coast. Akin to telling a fish not to swim, Nancy does her best to appear like she's having a teenage good time, yet when dad's not looking she's exploring secret passageways and digging up clues regarding the mysterious way in which the celebrity behaved before she met her demise. Oh, and she also fits in a little school time at Hollywood High.
Going on past experience with movies featuring wholesome, out-of-date characters, you may be left wondering how long it will take before Nancy conforms to the "evils" of Tinseltown. Thankfully, the writers of this film show amazing talent in creating a cast of kids who are all "peculiar" in their own way, sending a strong message of self-esteem and being content with who you are. And while the usual cliched Hollywood teenagers meet Nancy on her first day, the script provides these characters with room to grow and progress as they share in the young detective's adventure.
The mystery within the film is engaging enough to keep adults interested -- especially those who enjoyed the books when they were young. While the plot does involve murder and some violence, such as blows, verbal threats, gunplay, car chases and explosions, it's nothing teens shouldn't be able to handle. However, young children may be frightened by a few tense moments of peril. The only other possible content concerns include a few mild expletives and terms of deity, and a short kiss between two teens.
Sixteen-year-old Emma Roberts, who is likely familiar to your kids from television, provides a solid performance, along with her cast member friends Max Thieriot (who play's Nancy's long time friend Ned) and Josh Flitter (playing a smitten young man in her new home). Considering this classic sleuth has solved over 350 mysteries since her creation by Edward Stratemeyer in 1930 (a.k.a. Carolyn Keene), we can only hope this combination of unique adolescents with bright minds and cooperative attitudes will continue to be a novel idea in movie theaters for some time to come.