Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Nancy Drew (2007)

Emma Roberts
Tate Donovan
Max Theriot
Josh Flitter
Daniella Monet
Kelly Vitz
Rachael Leigh Cook
Laura Harring
Marshall Bell
Pat Carroll

I owe a lot to Nancy Drew and so do you. If it weren't for her I would not be writing all these wonderful and witty reviews for you to soak up and then what would you do for entertainment? And what would I be doing? I'd probably be in my living room, in my lounger with my gut hanging over my belt, drinking a Budweiser, while watching the NFL draft and waiting for my laundry to be finished. So thanks to Nancy, instead of doing that I'm in my computer room, sitting in my office chair, writing this review, waiting for my laundry to finish and drinking my Budweiser while my gut hangs over my belt.

I won't swear to it but I think the first Nancy Drew book that I read was The Hidden Staircase Mystery. Don't ask me what it was about though, because I've long forgotten, just as I've long forgotten all of the generic plots that made up the Nancy Drew series from one book to the next. It's only been about forty years so what did you expect?

So why did I start reading Nancy Drew and not something like maybe The Hardy Boys as a very young twelve and thirteen year old? I had three sisters older than me, one slightly younger at the time, and my two younger brothers were still fooling around with Dick, Jane, Sally, Mother, Father, and Spot. So naturally there weren't any Hardy Boys Books laying around the house for one to read. But there were a few Nancy Drew books tossed about. Then there's the fact that I'm pretty sure one of my sisters made the astounding proclamation that I was incapable of reading anything beyond the Sunday Funny Papers and comic books. Wrong again, Sis.

As it turned out, after reading several of the books I was hooked and I not only wanted to read more, I wanted to write Nancy Drew books as well. In the sixth grade a friend of mind and I did in fact write two or three stories along that line. I don't know how good they were but they were good enough for the teacher to let us get up in front of the class and read them. I don't know if my writing partner Danny Noll kept those or not, but hey Danny, if you run across this let me know.

Nancy Drew books at that time weren't easy for me to come by and I ended up reading the same few we had in the house many times over. We didn't live near a public library so that was no help. My parents certainly couldn't afford to keep me stocked up in Nancy Drew books at the time although I did ask for a few of them one Christmas and got some Whitman Books about some prissy teenaged female named Donna Parker instead. I read one, but it sure wasn't Nancy Drew.

How could she be with a crappy title like Donna Parker at Cherryvale High gracing the cover of her book along with some crappy square dancing. I kept waiting for Donna to be knocked on the noggin or better yet, to inhale some chloroform out of a handkerchief but to the best of my memory it never happened. As for Nancy, she may have done some square dancing in her lifetime, but you would never ever see her engaging in such silliness on the cover of one of her books. And besides, Donna Parker was quite the wuss, while Nancy was the female detective every guy would want to be, if he was a girl that is. And then again, there may be some guys out there who did fulfill a lifelong wish to become a female detective. More power to them.

Then there was the year that we moved from the home I had known most of my lifetime. In the space of about a years time we moved to three different locations. It was a difficult time, making it hard to not only find friends but to find ways to be accepted in new neighborhoods. When we moved the third time, we actually landed near a public library and that was when I was finally able to read practically the whole series that had been released. I was also able to start reading The Hardy Boys and I liked them as well, but my heart always belonged to Nancy.

The librarian though, didn't think it was such a hot idea for kids to read only detective stories churned out on a regular basis by the great Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon (neither of whom really existed), so she tried to get me to read something called a Newberry Award Winner. I read just enough to learn that when somebody sticks an award on  children's books, it meant that parents loved it and kids would hate it. It was a bore, and I went right back to Nancy and the Hardy Boys.

Eventually I had read all there was to read and my visits to the library where I would sit and read for hours began to slowly fade away, as did my keen interest in teenage detectives. Eventually I would go on to read real works of great literature by such authors as Harold Robbins, Jacqueline Susann, and of course the greatest of them all, Stephen King.

By the time Pamela Sue Martin hit the television airwaves as Nancy, along with Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy as The Hardy Boys, I was working nights and VCR's ran about $1500 bucks at the time so I missed out. But my brother says that Pamela Sue Martin was the definitive Nancy Drew and I'll take his word on it until I can catch up via Netflix. The Hardy Boys episodes are available on Netflix's Watch Now feature but not Nancy so I'll have to wait until I have an opening in my queue to fit her in and judge for myself. I don't know why she isn't on Watch Now. I guess it just must be more sexism by the big boys at the top of the entertainment chain.

In the mid nineties, Nancy Drew showed up on the tube again in a series seen in France and Germany according to the IMDB. I know little about this series as it lasted only through thirteen episodes and Nancy was played by Tracy Ryan as a 21 year old. I initially found this clip on you tube and thought it was interesting. In the clip Nancy as seen breaking up with Ned as he heads off to Africa. They are meeting in Paris as Nancy is there solving a mystery.  Since then, I have viewed the entire series on Netflix, but will hold back my opinion until a later date.  But you can view it and the Hardy Boys series that went along  with it on instant streaming. Here's a taste for your viewing pleasure.

In 2007 Nancy Drew finally made her way back to the big screen.  Her last theatrical appearance dated back to 1938-1939 when Bonita Granville brought the character to life. Years later, Granville went on to become what most people know her by-the producer of the Lassie television series. You can find her four Nancy Drew films by renting them at Netflix or purchase them as a set from Amazon, which I already have done but haven’t had time to watch them as of yet.   Eventually I hope to write a review of those but don't expect it to be any time soon unless I'm totally deluged with requests which I know with 100 per cent certainty that I won't be.

Not willing to venture into a movie theater filled with female teenagers and tweenagers, I had to wait on the release of the DVD to give my assessment since I was once a Nancy Drew connoisseur. After having been on what seemed like an endlessly long wait by Netflix, Nancy finally arrived this week.

When I first saw the trailer for the film last year, I have to admit that I cringed-a lot. This was not the Nancy Drew I knew. This was another dumbed down teenager pretending to play detective with a supporting cast of the usual assortment of goofballs, oddballs, nitwits, and misfits that producers and writers mistakenly throw into teener and tweener movies because they honestly believe every teenage girl aspires to be either the neighborhood nutcase or failing in that, the stupidest most obnoxious kid on the block.

Besides that, this Nancy Drew appeared to be way too young. She was still in High School for crying out loud. The Nancy Drew I knew was always seventeen or eighteen, self confident, and the most popular gal around. And what in the hell was she doing in L.A.? Why not start her off with a mystery in her hometown of River Heights? Still, despite my many many misgivings, I decided to withhold judgment until I had actually seen the movie.

The producers chose Emma Roberts to become the teenaged super sleuth. I had previously seen Ms. Roberts in a film called Aquamarine, about two teenage girls who found a mermaid after a hurricane. The film was average as far as entertainment value goes and quickly forgettable because I would be hard pressed to sit down and write a review of it without viewing it once again.

At the time filming of Nancy Drew began, Roberts was all of fifteen years old, sixteen by the time the film was released. Since she has her drivers license in the film, she is actually playing someone who is at least sixteen or seventeen depending on what mythical state River Heights is supposed to be located in. So as you find out by watching the DVD extras, she did not actually do any driving sequences. But, by the time the film was over I was willing to give the writers and producers somewhat of a break on the age thing. I have no ideas what their plans were, but maybe they were hoping it would rake in enough cash for there to be a few sequels, in which case you didn't want your young actress to so old that by the time you make sequel three it would be like watching Stockard Channing in Grease. And of course actresses play older and younger characters all the time as I pointed out when I recently reviewed Kim Darby's performance as Mattie in True Grit.

That being said, the problem arises not because of Roberts age but because the writers, Andrew Fleming and Tiffany Paulsen, decided that although their Nancy is seventeen or eighteen, there are way too many scenes where they force Roberts to behave more like a clueless fourteen year old than the popular, self-confident teenager she was in the books. It was as if they were trying to have it both ways. It would have been fine to have taken Nancy back a couple of years to her early days of high school, but you have to be true to what the character was to become. In essence, it was as if they thought Nancy was too smart and too sure of her self so they found it necessary to make her the odd man out at times in order to make her palatable to younger teenagers. Which means they had little respect if any for their target audience.

When the film began, I actually had high hopes that I was wrong and that the preview was edited in a certain way in which they thought it would most entice some teens into the theater. I already knew they had been wrong on that score if that had been their plan. Most of the comments I had read regarding the trailer after viewing it on YouTube were mostly negative, from teenage girls of course.  But the film opened with some nifty sliding scenes of artwork that one used to find in the Nancy Drew books. It was one of those touches that one can appreciate when you adapt an icon onto the big screen. Unfortunately, the credits had to end and the movie had to begin. It opened with a huge resounding thud.

Nancy is hiding in a closet in a church office as two thugs are rummaging through a desk. She sneezes and is quickly discovered. So does she try to escape? No, not yet. She begins negotiating with them while the police and the police chief, the fire department, her dad, her best friends Bess & George (Amy Bruckner & Kay Panabaker), and wannabe boyfriend Ned Nickerson (Max Theriot) wait outside. It is not really explained why these crooks would want to sit down and hammer out a peace treaty while the cavalry arrives for Nancy, except that Gary and Steve make Harry and Marv from the Home Alone movies look like first rate cat burglars by comparison.

At one point, Ned interrupts the negotiations by giving Nancy a call on her cell phone to tell her about a dream he had where she ran off to California and met that "guy from Smallville" and then he (Ned) turned into a rat. Nancy, in that polite way that she has about herself, quickly tells him to buzz off which is the first sensible thing that has happened since the movie started. Finally one of her Housekeeper's lemon bars seals Gary's appetite and the negotiations with the two crooks come to and end with their surrender agreement. As they begin walking out of the church, Gary and Steve begin arguing with themselves and finally Nancy decides to end the whole business along with my misery by actually escaping this time. And she does it in such a way that teenage Nancy Drew might accomplish such a feat and my hopes are raised once again that the film will get on track. But they are quickly dashed as we take another turn for the very worse.

As Nancy escapes to the roof, the two crooks are apprehended. If we had left the scene here, everything would have been peachy keen and hunky dory but instead more goofiness is waiting in the wings. Nancy slips and slides down the church roof but manages to catch onto a gutter before falling to the ground. Having watched the Batman TV series in the sixties and learning that you should always carry everything in your utility belt, and always knowing when such a crises will arrive, Nancy just so happens to have a rope with a hook in her detective kit so that she is able to latch it onto the gutter and repel down the side of the building to the adoration of her friends, and the working men and women of River Heights.

Her dad Carson Drew (Tate Donovan) is there as well. but he's not applauding. In fact he's a bit put out by it all. After having her picture taken with the whole gang and departing with her dad, the Sheriff gathers everybody around to say a prayer for Nancy to have a safe journey to California. I couldn't imagine at the time what mode of transportation they would be using that would have made that scene necessary but we find out rather quickly it's a train. I guess even Amtrak needs a little divine intervention these days.

On the way home, Carson makes Nancy promise that there will be no more sleuthing while they are in California. It could be because if you try and negotiate with Los Angeles crooks, you're apt to come out of the pow-wow with a large hole in the middle of your skull. Still, I couldn't help but groan. It was bad enough that we had to have Darren Stevens telling Samantha no witchcraft for eight seasons of Bewitched. Now they have to bog down Nancy Drew with a no sleuthing promise to Daddy Dearest.

Yeah, I know she isn't going to keep the promise any more than Samantha did which makes the whole thing stupid and unnecessary. That you see, is exactly what my point is. You know you're going to end up with one scene after another of Nancy debating with herself as to whether to keep the promise or not just before she goes on to do what she's supposed to do and what we know she is going to do and before long the whole bit does nothing more than elicit a yawn.

I have no problem with Nancy and dear old Dad wandering off to California land. In the books, Nancy is forever globe trotting. Recently I played a demo of a Nancy Drew Computer Game just for kicks and she was in New Orleans for that one. (No, don't ask me how I did in the game.) But this movie has an ulterior motive for sticking Nancy out in Hollywood. Instead of just Nancy Drew, Detective, they want to give us Nancy Drew, Fish Out of Water.

I'm sure the producers, director and writer saw it as giving us two kinds of stories for the price of one, but in case they hadn't noticed, the fact that Nancy is a famous super sleuth already makes her different from any teenager I have ever known. Nancy is the epitome of a fish out of water where ever she goes.

But to make this part of the movie work they now have to make her over as some kind of an oddball. To do this, they write the film as if Nancy has just dropped into the year 2007 from the year 1957 or even earlier. I suppose the idea may have come from The Brady Bunch Movies which dropped the goody-goody family into modern times for a clownishly satirical movie. Thankfully the producers don't go quite that far, but they go far enough into it when they should have just given Nancy a mystery with a little more excitement and substance then telling her to be on about her business.

What we get with this odorous fish tale escapade is Nancy trying to get accepted by two obnoxious teenagers, Inga (Daniella Monet) and her friend Trish (Kelly Vitz). They are the usual stereotypical cardboard cutouts of what Hollywoodland Producers see as the obnoxious teen out to do somebody in.

One of Inga's and Trish's schemes also involve getting Inga's brother Corky (Josh Flitter) in on the plot. Later he regrets having done so, apologizes to Nancy, and then latches on to her for the rest of the film. His character actually serves little or no purpose for being in the movie other than to take up screen time so one can only surmise why he was even scripted in the first place. He's suppose to be the comic relief I guess. I found this out only because I watched the DVD extras and actor Josh Flitter who plays the character boldly declares that he has the funniest lines in the movie. That wasn't a difficult status to achieve in this film, believe me.

As for the mystery itself, the house Nancy and Carson are living in while they are out in California once belonged to a famous actress who was murdered. In fact, Nancy picked it just for that reason before she knew Dad was going to pull the Darren Stevens bit on her. The actress, Dehlia Draycott (Laura Herring) disappeared for a length of time at the height of her career. When she returned, she threw a big party but never made it down to meet her guests. Instead, she was found floating in a pool, dead as the proverbial doornail. Nancy describes it as one of the great mysteries of all time. I don't know about that but it'll do for a starter kit.

It seems that the caretaker, Leshing (Marshall Bell) who takes care of the grounds around the mansion, was once an employee of Draycott. Of course, he's obnoxious, unkempt and hates everybody. He is obviously prime suspect number one.

And eventually when she's not having to deal with Inga and Trish, Nancy does get around to working on the mystery and when she does it's the only genuine moments in this film that work. It does in fact, actually show somewhat of a heartbeat. It also gives us an indication of what the film could have and should have been if the powers to be hadn't been dead set on throwing in the usual teen nonsense they feel they have to regurgitate into every single teen movie produced these days, especially those geared toward young girls.

And unlike the silly opening scenes with Gary and Steve, at least they let Roberts play the rest of the detective scenes straight as they very well should have done to begin with.  (At least for the most part. There's a silly bit of business with Bruce Willis in a cameo role)  And when she's on the case, Emma Roberts does a credible job as Nancy despite her age. If the film had done better at the box office one could almost see her maturing in the role quite nicely if the film was made by more capable hands than the ones responsible for this sorry bit of business.

She actually goes about her detective business quite systematically and through the process of elimination she finally uncovers several secrets including a slight plot twist, although predictable, works just the same. There are several of the scenes which occur in every Nancy Drew book including being knocked unconscious,getting in a car chase, almost being blown up, and dragged away after being chloroform-ed. So we certainly can't fault Roberts for the films shortcomings, because she is able to rise above it all to introduce at least a little sensitivity into the character. She often says a lot just by her facial expressions and with her eyes. It's not her fault if the teen misfit particular plot line should have been in a different movie altogether and does nothing but drag the rest of the movie downward.

Eventually Ned Nickerson does come out to give her a hand, although this is not the Ned from the books. That Ned was cool, confident, and sure of himself, yet was willing to help Nancy with whatever she needed him to for. He understood that being a detective was first and foremost in Nancy's life.

This Ned is written as the exact opposite. He's not sure about anything and although he comes out to Hollywood to join Nancy, he isn't very helpful and is given little to do except sit around and mope, even to the point of worrying that Nancy is going to run off with thirteen year old Corky. By the time he heads back to River Heights, he had already overextended his welcome in my opinion. And if this Ned had popped up in the books, Nancy would have vanquished him by the end of Nancy's Mysterious Letter, the volume where he popped up in the first place.

As for Bess and George, once Nancy leaves River Heights for L.A., they are not seen or heard from again. Their screen time is donated to Inga and Trish of course, and yes, Inga and Trish do eventually come along on Nancy's magical mystery tour, but they are even less helpful and less useful than Corky or Ned. Maybe Bess and George saw the screenplay and decided it was best to keep their feet firmly planted in River Heights where they could save a little bit of their dignity.

Its hard to decide if the Carson Drew character is as bad as he seems in this film or if it's Tate Donovan's acting credentials. It's not like he has a lot to do anyway, but when he's around I found him to be more of an annoying old fart than the understanding father he was supposed to be. He has two emotional ranges, stodgy, and stodgier. He goes on endlessly about how he wants Nancy to be just like every other teenage girl and after a while you just want him to shut the hell up and let Nancy do her thing. When Nancy gives a party and the house is wrecked, instead of being angry he is overjoyed because oh my god Nancy is a real teenager after all. Give me a break.

The movie ends much in the same way it began, with a silly phone call for Nancy that wouldn't have happened in the books, and the same kind of title sequences that opened the film. It's just too bad that none of the adults involved in the making of this movie didn't  bother reading the books themselves when they were lifting the artwork ideas out of them and just gone with it. If they had, then I certainly would be giving it a better grade. Instead I have no choice but to give them a grade of C, because unlike Nancy Drew or even Emma Roberts, they are totally clueless. My advice, watch Nancy solve her mystery, skip the rest.

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