'Nim's Island' a family-friendly desert-island adventure

Category: Nim's Island Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: April 2, 2008 | Publication: Scripps Howard News Service | Author: BETSY PICKLE
Publication/Article Link:Scripps News

In "Nim's Island," "girls gone wild" takes on a whole new meaning. This film isn't exploitation but celebration -- extolling the inner and outer strength of females (with no disrespect to the fellas) in a remote setting that requires self-reliance and courage.

"Nim's Island" is a desert-island adventure that will call to mind such books and/or movies as "Robinson Crusoe," "Swiss Family Robinson," "Pippi Longstocking" and even "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Cast Away." The family-friendly film is based on the like-titled novel by Wendy Orr.

Eleven-year-old Nim (Abigail Breslin) has lived on a tropical volcanic island with her marine-biologist father, Jack Rusoe (Gerard Butler), as long as she can remember. Her oceanographer mother died when Nim was very small, and Nim knows of her only through the fantastical stories Jack tells.

Nim's friends are a sea lion named Selkie, a lizard named Fred and a wise pelican named Galileo. The family lives in an elaborate tree house that's the essence of "green" living, right down to its solar panels.

In addition to the living quarters, the house has a lab where Jack does research. The Rusoes try to keep the location of their island paradise a secret, but they have a satellite dish that lets them stay connected via satellite phone and computer, so odds are there's a communications company somewhere that has the address for billing purposes.

Jack heads out to sea for a couple of days to study plankton, but Nim insists on staying behind so she can help a sea turtle hatch its eggs. Jack knows Nim can take care of herself, and she does. He's the one who runs into trouble when a storm comes up and damages his boat, leaving him nearly helpless in the middle of the ocean.

Nim tries not to worry when she doesn't hear from Jack, and she gets a welcome distraction when Alex Rover (Jodie Foster), her favorite adventure writer, e-mails to ask Jack some questions about volcanoes. Nim lets Alex think she's Jack's assistant and doesn't reveal that she's his young daughter until panic over Jack and a series of crises prompt her to ask Alex to come help her.

Nim pictures Alex as a strapping adventurer who looks like Jack as Indiana Jones. In reality, Alex is Alexandra Rover, a reclusive San Francisco-based writer who rarely leaves her apartment. Alex is severely agoraphobic and fears everything from spiders to germs to airplanes to oceans. Her "Alex Rover" books spring from imagination, research and an ongoing dialogue with her fearless alter ego, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Jack.

The film plays up the slapstick as Nim tries to protect her home and herself from intruders. Some of it is simply jungle fun, but it's hard to believe Nim would use her lizard friends in the ways she does. The intruders themselves are loud caricatures that might amuse young viewers but will prove irritating to adults.

Foster's foray into physical comedy is much funnier, even though it also is over the top. The double Oscar winner makes Alex's phobias feel real, and she's just as convincing when Alex starts facing her fears.

Casting Butler as both Jack and fictional hero Alex Rover was an excellent idea, especially since it gives him the chance to play off Foster. Butler has fun snapping out wisecracks and offering insightful gems. But he also is warm and playful as the loving father.

Breslin, who dealt with a different set of father issues in "Definitely, Maybe," continues to come across as natural and childlike. However, she steps up to another level here, conveying the sense that even though she's smart and big-hearted, she's obviously someone who has grown up without the socializing effects of mixing with others.

While directors Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, who wrote the script with Paula Mazur and Joseph Kwong, don't get preachy, they make sure young viewers hear the messages about finding courage, asking for help and protecting the environment. Those aren't gender-specific concepts, but they get the right handling with Breslin as the heroine in "Nim's Island."

Rated PG for mild adventure action and brief language.

3.5 stars (out of five)

(Contact Knoxville News Sentinel film critic Betsy Pickle at pickle(at)knews.com.)