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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Family friendly ‘Nim's Island' disappoints

4/17/2008 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

Abigail Breslin stars in “Nim’s Island.”
Photo courtesy of Fox Walden
The best things about the child-friendly adventure movie “Nim’s Island” are Nim and her island. The other stuff in the movie, including its big-name star, could have been jettisoned without much loss.

Eleven-year-old Nim (Abigail Breslin) is the daughter of Jack (Gerard Butler), a scientist studying single-cell sea creatures. Jack lost his wife when Nim was very young, and since then, he and Nim have lived on a deserted island in the Pacific. Jack looks for protozoa; Nim reads adventure books and parties with the island’s animal life. (The antics of the sea lions, pelicans and reptiles could make you nostalgic for the old Sea World shows in Aurora.)

Nim has a vivid imagination, which we discover in a cute scene where the characters in one of her books come alive before her. Nim’s favorite stories are the adventures of Indiana Jones-like Alex Rover, who, unbeknownst to Nim, is written by a scatterbrained San Franciscan named Alexandra “Alex” Rover (Jodie Foster). Alexandra is as flighty as Nim is clear headed. The author is germ phobic, agoraphobic and, perhaps the result of seeing “Play it Again, Sam” too many times, converses with her literary character as if he were a real person. (In a dual role, Butler also plays the fictional adventurer Alex as well as Nim’s dad, Jack.)

One day, Jack, whose obsession with plankton rivals that of the crew of the Krusty Krab, takes his boat on a scientific expedition while the self-sufficient Nim stays home. A storm leaves Jack out to sea, without any way of communicating with his justifiably concerned daughter. Around this time, Nim strikes up an e-mail correspondence with Alex Rover, the author, thinking it is Alex Rover, the fearless adventurer. (Nim is sharp as a tack in almost every way, but she apparently never bothers to read book jackets or the “about the author” page.) Nim asks her new e-mail pal for assistance, leading Alexandra to battle her phobias in an attempt to reach Nim.

Here’s the odd thing: Usually, in movies, when a main character makes a grand effort to help, their assistance is actually needed. Without going into detail, that’s not the case here. Alexandra goes to a whole lot of trouble to contribute next to nothing, and while she might learn something about herself on her quest, the time we spend following her journey could have been put to better use. This is a movie for preteen girls (and boys who are dragged along), most of whom are already aware how loony grownups are.

Better the time would have been spent on Nim, who has the resourcefulness of MacGyver and the pluck of Little Orphan Annie. (And she does more than just say, “leaping lizards.” She actually makes them leap.) Breslin, who received an Oscar nomination for “Little Miss Sunshine” and stars in an “American Girl” movie this summer, makes a terrific Nim, a character who’s a good role model for the target audience. While Alexandra flails about, Nim, literally and figuratively, keeps her head above water.

The movie, which is currently in theaters, is rated PG for mild adventure action and brief language.

**-1/2 (out of four)

Craig Marks is a cartoonist and editorial, sports and entertainment writer for the West Side Leader.

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