Say, chum, I heard from some of the fellows that you’re a friend of Frank and Joe Hardy, and have I got a mystery that’s right up their alley! Here’s the payoff- What in Pity’s sake happened to the American Dollar? I had a hot date with Carolyn Keene (she’s not just keen, she’s Murgatroyd!) to hop on down to the Picture Show in the Old Jalopy, and take in the latest flick, “Nancy Drew.” Seems Carolyn is a genuine Egghead, and has been penning books about teen sleuth Nancy that are now the rave of Tinseltown! Since my wallet is flatter than Ike’s crewcut, I borrowed twenty bucks from The Old Man for a gallon of gas, two tickets and popcorn, and was knocked for a loop! Oh, my stars, my best girl and I didn’t have enough simoleans to even make it out of the filling station! Luckily, I had a swell idea: Why not just save some dough, toddle on Homesville, fire up the Emerson, and watch our gal pal Lindsay Lohan solve teen crime in Uncle Walt’s “Get A Clue”?
It’s been over sixty years since River Heights’ favorite amateur girl sleuth hit the silver screen, when the scary-talented Bonita Granville starred as Nancy Drew in a series of four films, beginning in 1939, the year many consider the best Hollywood ever had. This was the year of “Gone With the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Wuthering Heights,” and “Robin Hood.” The Studio System was in its heyday, and they were doing what they did best: making movies out of popular books. You remember books? They were bulky, heavy, and you were always being reminded to ‘treat them right, don’t break their back!’ They weren’t like comic books, or the modern ‘graphic novel.’ When you were surreptitiously reading late on a summer’s night, long after your bedtime, and needed something to hit the rogue spider suddenly making a break for it on your ceiling, you didn’t swat at it feebly with a flimsy “Tales of Terror #23”, you hit it with a book, preferably “Kidnapped,” and that sucker stayed hit!
And like a breath of fresh air from that bygone era, Nancy Drew has returned, in the form of Julia Roberts’ favorite niece, Emma, to waft some charm, wit and fun into a summer overloaded with Silver Surfers, webslingers, CGI effects, and nightmares endured by kids too young to handle the sight of Stellan Skarsgaard’s face oozing from the barnacle-encrusted hold of a pirate ship. “Nancy” has it’s share of chills, but nothing to send the moppets into therapy- the film’s top special effect involves a medium fender-bender in her roadster! Yes, Nancy Drew still owns her two-seater, but it, and her signature plaid skirts and penny-loafers have been transplanted to modern-day California, as she and her father take a break from crime-ridden River Heights to relax in peaceful Los Angeles. For Pop, it’s a new business prospect, for Ms Drew, it’s a Black Dahlia-style murder mystery from Hollywood’s Golden Age (the 1980’s, a good joke).
The film starts off shakily, and my Drew-fan daughter was looking at me in mute dismay when Nancy abandoned her two best girl chums and boyfriend, Ned, to Go West, but the involving story, the clever-without-being-campy script, and the dead-on tongue-in-cheek performances by the young members of the cast keep drawing you in, and, by the finale, deliver the goods. Emma Roberts, the daughter of our old favorite Eric Roberts (If you haven’t seen “The Pope of Greenwich Village”, GO! Rent it! Now!) is extremely likeable, and her socially ingenuous/crime-wise take on Nancy will have even the strictest Keene sticklers nodding and smiling in approval. All supersleuths need a good sidekick, for comic-relief and to bounce ideas off that would normally remain in her head, silent to audiences, and Nancy finds one in Corky, played by Josh Flitter. This young man is wise beyond his years in the art of comic timing, and his sotto voce asides are priceless. Also on hand are Rachel Leigh Cook, Tate Donovan, and cameos from Bruce Willis and Adam Goldberg, but it is Miss Roberts’ movie to carry or drop, and she handles the weight like she’s been doing it for years.
A few years ago, The Disney Channel started making a series of made-for-cable movies they call ‘Disney Channel Original Movies’, and they turned into a decent entertaining staple for parents dismayed at the lack of fare acceptable at the theaters and video stores for impressionable young viewers. My daughter and I have seen most of them, and generally, they are well made, fun movies, competently acted, and innocuous enough to show on sleep-over nights when even the strictest parents’ children are in attendance. Like those wonderful “Disney Sunday Night” movies of my childhood, “Emil and the Detectives,” “The Swamp Fox,” “Texas John Slaughter,” and many others, they also offer a gentle message to aid young people in their development. The best part, for me, is, the scripts are compelling enough to satisfy a grown-up forced to watch along with the younger set. There is “Double Teamed.” a true-life story of twin teen girl basketball players, that is very good. Another true-life story follows a teen girl dragracer, while still another examines what happens when an Irish boy turns into a Leprechaun on St. Paddy’s Day! But our favorite was 2002’s “Get A Clue”, starring Lindsay Lohan as an irrepressible, fashion-conscious high school paper reporter-turned amateur sleuth. The movie is obviously influenced by Nancy Drew, but goes its own way without being plagiaristic.
Now, if you think Disney is paying me on the sly, you just don’t know how hard it is for parents to find something they can share with their sons and daughters that is decapitation-free, two guys sharing more than a saddle blanket-free, etc., and how pathetically, tearfully grateful we are when a “Holes” or “Flicka” gets released. Got it? Okay…
“Get A Clue” follows Miss Lohan and her friends as they investigate the mysterious disappearance of their favorite teacher. Was he murdered, or did he meet with an accident? If it was foul play, was the culprit a fellow teacher, or a stranger lurking nearby? The emphasis is not so much on the plot as it is on the burgeoning friendship/teen romance of poor boy (Bug Hall)and rich girl (Lohan), and their very colorful sidekicks, played with zest by Brenda Song and Ali Mukaddam. The film has many funny moments, and pays a modern-day homage to the Hardy/Drew young sleuths of the past. Lindsay Lohan shows just why she was picked to go on to major features like “Mean Girls.” She simply makes the movie work, thanks to her appealing, magnetic personality, precocious acting ability, and a series of wild wardrobe changes that young girls everywhere are squealing over.
It’s Saturday night, your kids are bored, and looking at you with that special mix of adoring trust and suspicious contempt that only they can pull off, so what do you do? Brave the traffic and the multiplex prices (Red Vines now cost as much as your first bike) to see the freshest young face, Emma Roberts, go brain-over-brawn with La-La Land Bad Guys, or save a pile of cash and tune in Disney for, or rent, “Get a Clue”, and enjoy Lindsay Lohan’s flaming tresses and million-dollar smile with Costco trail mix? As far as sheer talent goes, Lindsay trumps Emma. And just about everybody else in her weight class, Rachel Mcadams excluded. The magnetism she brings to the screen, and she had it as early as “Parent Trap”, can’t be taught, just appreciated. But, aside from her, “Clue” doesnt have what “Nancy Drew” offers, which is a major releases’ high production values; great soundtrack mix of contemporary tunes and Carolyn Keene-era ‘action music’, and a better group of costars.
In my childhood, while my buddies were spending their reading time learning the relative merits of red and green Kryptonite, I was voraciously devouring Hardy Boys books like a boy possessed. And across the hall were two sisters discovering just what Nancy Drew’s mystery was behind “The Old Clock.” Nancy Drew is an American Institution, an important part of modern girls’ acceptance of their own innate intelligence and ingenuity, a forerunner of the acclaimed “American Girls” series of books. And here is a film that lovingly and competently pays tribute to that legacy. Yes, go see “Nancy Drew” while it is still in theaters. Do it for the obvious reason, that it is fun, entertaining, and well worth the time and expense. And for the other, not so obvious reason, which is that if parents truly want quality entertainment like this film, and “Flicka,” “Pride and Prejudice,” and others, we need to prove it at the box-office.