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"NANCY DREW AND THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE"
(2019) (Sophia Lillis, Laura Wiggins) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A teenage sleuth tries to solve the matter of a house that's reportedly haunted.
PLOT:
Nancy Drew (SOPHIA LILLIS) is a 16-year-old, tomboyish amateur sleuth who moved to the town of River Heights with her lawyer father, Carson (SAM TRAMMELL), following the death of her mother, all to be closer to her aunt, Hannah (ANDREA ANDERS), and godfather, Nate (JON BRIDDELL). While her dad tries to keep a new rail line out of the town -- much to the disdain of various locals, such as Wharton (JESSE C. BOYD) -- Nancy enjoys spending time with her friends George (ZOE RENEE) and Bess (MACKENZIE GRAHAM).

When the latter is cyberbullied by high school jock and local rich kid Derek (EVAN CASTELLOE), Nancy decides they should get revenge and plans and pulls off an elaborate prank. Unfortunately for her, that results in damage to the school's locker room and thus gets her in hot water not only with her dad, but also Sheriff Marchbanks (JAY DEVON JOHNSON) who assigns her to perform a set amount of community service. During that, Nancy overhears an older local woman, Flora (LINDA LAVIN), complain that her house is haunted. With no help from the sheriff, Nancy decides to offer her amateur sleuthing skills to solve the matter despite Flora being the aunt to snobby rich girl, Helen (LAURA WIGGINS), who just so happens to be Derek's girlfriend.

With the occasional help from Deputy Patrick (ANDREW MATTHEW WELCH) and her friends, Nancy tries to figure out what's going on in Flora's house, with her initial investigation briefly making her think perhaps it is haunted. But knowing that everything has an explanation behind it, Nancy sets out to solve that mystery.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Perhaps it's because I'm a guy and never had girls as my kids, but I've never read any of the Nancy Drew books. Heck, of the various film and other incarnations of the famous character, I've only seen the 2007 film starring Emma Roberts, but remember absolutely nothing about it.

To be fair, I wasn't much of a Hardy Boys fan either, having only read just one or two of their books and sort of remember the late '70s TV show starring Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy. And come to think of it, the sleuthing of Sherlock Holmes didn't do much for me either as a kid.

In fact, the only "detective" offering I religiously watched as a child was the old Scooby Doo cartoons, probably due to the characters having to contend with and try to solve various supernatural mysteries. Their antics came to mind while watching the latest Nancy Drew incarnation, "Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase."

With only passing similarities to the 1939 film of the same name (which itself was loosely based on the book of the same name from nine years earlier), the flick -- likely to appeal to pre-teen girls -- feels like an episode of Mr. Doo's old show, albeit sans the pooch, Shaggy or the rest of the gang.

But there's a reported haunted house (owned by the small town's eccentric older woman played by Linda Lavin), a creepy and threatening middle-aged man (Jesse C. Boyd sort of inhabiting the Old Man Smithers role) and our titular character (a winning Sophia Lillis) who isn't afraid of facing down supernatural threats due to believing there must be a logical explanation behind what's occurring.

Beyond some brief discussion about her mom having passed away sometime in the recent past, there isn't much in-depth exploration of the protagonist or her actions (that include criminal behavior such as two instances of breaking and entering, albeit as a means to the end of trying to solve the mystery).

Accordingly, and as directed by Katt Shea who works from a screenplay by Nina Fiore & John Herrera, the offering feels less like a feature film and more like an elongated episode (a two-parter!) from a TV show that doesn't exist but probably should. And one in which more time would be available to develop her and the supporting characters.

I could easily see Nancy, her friends (played by Zoe Renee and Mackenzie Graham), frenemy (Laura Wiggins), dad (Sam Trammell), aunt (Andrea Anders) and hunky young deputy Patrick (Andrew Matthew Welch) solving mystery after mystery in River Heights week after week. Perhaps co-producer Ellen DeGeneres can make that happen over at Warner Bros.

As it stands, the film is entertaining and engaging enough to earn a recommendation for its target audience of young girls. "Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed March 13, 2019 / Posted March 15, 2019


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