Nancy Drew is off her game. The plucky heroine from the books of Mildred Wirt Benson, aka Caroline Keene, just doesn’t have the same relevance she once did, and while ABC’s updated version for the “Wonderful World of Disney” is a slick, earnest effort, it’s way out of place.
The Nancy Drew of the new millennium can’t be chasing down the Secret of the Old Clock or the Clue in the Diary anymore. Especially when just about every other network offers bigger, juicier and timelier thrills. So writer Ami Canaan Mann gives it a good effort with a contemporary campus mystery, but this Nancy, played with enthusiasm by Maggie Lawson, is a confounding mix of Keene’s trademark innocent and a frantic, latte-addicted overachiever.
Pic begins as Nancy heads for River Heights U. with high school pals George (Lauren Birkell) and Bess (Jill Ritchie). Nancy, heady with big-fish-in-small-pond syndrome, is jolted into reality when she becomes just another coed. When it becomes apparent that earning a much coveted spot on the college paper will require a big scoop, Nancy doesn’t so much uncover a mystery as much as create drama and chaos.
A very popular med student and sorority president, Allison Price (Sabine Singh), is kicked out of school for providing her football player boyfriend performance-enhancing drugs that put him in a coma. But Nancy decides there is more to the story and ferrets out a mystery — sort of — by basically annoying everyone from her father to the football coach to the local police until she uncovers the all-too unremarkable truth.
The last incarnation of Nancy Drew disappeared from TV screens back in 1979, when Shaun Cassidy was a teen heartthrob. While the character may have evergreen appeal in theory, the execution here by director James Frawley feels like it’s stuck in some netherworld; he would have us believe here that an inspiring pep talk or a heart tugging speech is still all that’s needed to turn a grievous wrongs into a triumphant victory.
Mann’s script tries to be timely with college athletes and drug abuse, but except for a few arguments with her father, this version feels more like a fantasy throwback with a few nods to modern life via coffee houses and cell phones.
Lawson has the clean-cut go-getter style of a 21st-century Nancy, but her version of the she-Sherlock appears to be driven by self-interest rather than the desire to help the greater good. Her Nancy is independent and resourceful, but she’s also a big pain in the ass.
Daddy Drew, played by Brett Cullen, receives a much needed makeover and gives the story its most credibility. Any chance of resurrecting the mystery franchise, however, will need some serious rethinking.
Production quality is squeaky clean, and features unbelievably fabulous dorm rooms, cool clothes and cars that should appeal to the pic’s young femme aud.