Teen detective Nancy Drew thinks on her feet while unscrambling an old, unsolved, Hollywood murder case in this 2007 Warner Bros. family film written by Andrew Fleming and Tiffany Paulsen.
Nancy, played by Emma Roberts, accompanies her dad, Carson Drew, to Hollywood, California, where he has taken on a temporary assignment. Nancy’s dad makes the mistake of giving Nancy full authority over choosing their rental house, and she selects one with a mystery: the previous resident, film star Dehlia Draycott, was murdered on the property. When he learns of the mystery, Mr. Drew makes Nancy promise she won’t do any sleuthing. He wants her to be a “normal” teen.
But normal is impossible for this perky teacher’s pet. Wearing plaid skirts and loafers doesn’t win her any friends at Hollywood High. She manages to make one friend—a young boy named Corky, a dork like herself—and he tags along as Nancy, helpless to resist the lure of the dilapidated house with its dusty movie memorabilia and hidden passageways, begins digging into the crime. She finds an old letter of Dehlia’s addressed to someone named “Z” and uncovers the fact that Dehlia secretly gave birth just weeks before she was murdered. Nancy realizes that this mysterious “Z” likely viewed the baby’s arrival as competition for Dehlia’s attention—and her money. Nancy contacts the attorney of the Draycott estate, Dashiel Biedermeyer, who happens to also be Carson Drew’s associate.
With a powerful bribe in the form of a perfectly moist “blondie” confection baked by the Drew’s housekeeper, Nancy learns the name of the baby—Jane Brighton—and tracks her down. After their meeting, Jane, now a young mom herself, is threatened by strange, menacing men, and her daughter is taken from her by the state on phony misconduct charges. Likewise, Nancy is the subject of threats, murder attempts, and even a bomb.
After watching one of Dehlia’s old films, Nancy realizes that Dehlia’s missing will—which will provide for Jane and her daughter—is hidden in a secret compartment in an old Chinese box, which she finds in a Chinese antiques store. As she’s walking to her car with the will, Nancy is drugged and kidnapped, the will confiscated. However, once she regains consciousness, the ever-resourceful Nancy rigs a fishing pole made of string and a paper clip and, from a perch way up high on scaffolding in an abandoned theater, retrieves the document from the not-too-bright henchmen and manages to escape. In the ensuing road chase, Nancy crashes her beloved blue Roadster and ends up in the ER, where her concerned father and Biedermeyer find her.
Biedermeyer offers to drive the Drews home from the hospital. Still in the car, Nancy sees Biedermeyer sign paperwork with a pronounced “Z” and learns that the lawyer was Dehlia’s manager for years. Nancy deduces that Biedermeyer, concerned about being written out of Dehlia’s will, is the one who murdered the movie star. The man is insistent on seeing the will, and Nancy senses danger, so she escapes by diving out of the moving car. She makes it home, but Biedermeyer knows all the secret passageways and corners her. Just as Biedermeyer is about to kill Nancy, Leshing, the moody groundskeeper, uses the secret passages to sneak up on them and knocks out Biedermeyer and his creepy cohorts. Always planning ahead, Nancy has secretly been recording Biedermeyer’s confession, along with his statement that Leshing is actually Jane’s father. After the police arrest Biedermeyer, Nancy introduces Jane to Leshing. Jane inherits the mansion and turns it into a home for single mothers.
Just as in the book series written by various authors under the pen name Carolyn Keene, Nancy encounters villains who underestimate her, but she prevails, remaining a true representation of the unflappable sleuth we’ve known and loved since the first Nancy Drew book was published in 1930. As a testament to her levelheadedness, Nancy barely bats an eyelash after nearly being killed by a bomb: “It really gets my goat when someone tries to kill me. It’s so rude!” she complains to Corky and her boyfriend, Ned.
This movie would best be appreciated by tweens and younger teenagers who think being smart is cool. Some older teens watching the movie might view Nancy as weird and unpopular, but others, especially those who have an appreciation for old-fashioned wholesomeness and modesty, will find her charming. If I could change one thing about the movie, I’d make Nancy more relatable to her peers. Other than Corky and the silent and rather bland Ned, no one really understands Nancy.