Emma Roberts (Nickelodeon's "Unfabulous") plays the title character with winsome charm. She's whip-smart, kind, fearless and filled with an insatiable curiosity. Unfortunately, Fleming and co-writer Tiffany Paulsen's script transforms the amateur detective from a normal girl to a Sydney Bristow-like agent in the making. Her bomb-disposing and stunt-driving skills are more informed by "Alias" than the printed pages of the series. Even local law enforcement officials remind us that Nancy's abilities are superior to those of their staff. Why worry about her safety?
The story takes Nancy and her attorney father (Tate Donovan) from their fictional hometown of River Heights to Los Angeles. Although the devoted daughter has allegedly sworn off the sleuthing business, the Drews have rented a dilapidated mansion that comes with a scary caretaker and a story: Former owner Dehlia Draycott (Laura Harring), a famous movie star, died there under mysterious circumstances. Always resourceful, Nancy starts to investigate with the help of the Internet and housekeeper Hannah's tasty lemon bars and blondies.
Instead of building a suspenseful mystery, the narrative hits a snag spending so much time at Hollywood High. The mean girls (Daniella Monet and Kelly Vitz) bully Nancy, the new student garbed in old-fashioned penny loafers and clothes sewn from her late mother's patterns (Jeffrey Kurland's adorable retro designs). Enter Josh Flitter as 12-year-old Corky, who develops a fast friendship with Nancy and steals the film from under her bookworm nose. A fireball of energy and fun, Flitter has the best lines and perfect comic timing. He makes wholesome teen hearthrob Ned (Max Theriot) look even more boring that he is.
Oh, the mystery? Nancy explains every clichéd development immediately after the fact to make sure the audience gets it. Worse yet, the tale of a secret pregnancy and greedy showbiz types may not be the best subject matter for the PG-crowd. Several scenes, including an on-the-lot cameo appearance by Bruce Willis, add nothing but more running time to the sluggish movie.
Similar to the books, the movie ends with news of Nancy's next case. Let's hope the sequel sticks to mystery instead of spending time on super-spy heroics and convincing everyone that a good-girl detective can be cool.