Adventure trip to 'Nim's Island' worthwhile

Category: Nim's Island Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: April 7, 2008 | Publication: The Roanoke Times | Author: Jeff DeBell
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Eleven-year-old Nim has it made. She and her marine biologist dad are the sole human beings on an isolated tropical island that nonetheless features electricity and e-mail. Though an excellent reader, Nim evidently doesn’t have to bother with school. Instead, she spends most of her time prowling the private Eden in the company of a pelican, a lizard and a flatulent sea lion.

That’s the setup for “Nim’s Island,” a new movie for family audiences. It’s based on a children’s novel by Wendy Orr.

Abigail Breslin plays Nim. Gerard Butler is her dad, Jack, and Jodie Foster appears as Alexandra Rover, author of the adventure novels that Nim loves. Their hero is Alex Rover (also played by Butler), a swashbuckling cross between Indiana Jones and Crocodile Dundee.

Paradise turns to Hades for Nim when Jack goes missing while on a one-man scientific voyage and a storm viciously rakes the island home where Nim has insisted on being left on her own. Not knowing what else to do, she innocently e-mails Alex Rover for help. His creator, Alexandra, determines to go to the rescue. Since the author is an obsessive-compulsive agoraphobic who hasn’t left her San Francisco apartment in 16 years, her decision is not an easy one.

“Nim’s Island” thus juggles three related stories: shipwrecked Jack’s struggle to survive and return, Alexandra’s nerve-wracking journey from Telegraph Hill to the remote Pacific island, and lonely Nim’s anguish about the fate of her dad. She is diverted briefly by the need to scuttle a cruise line’s effort to turn her beach into a tourist trap, but that’s a subplot whose deletion would have granted “Nim’s Island” a bit of needed tightening.

Breslin’s performance in this outing doesn’t quite reach the level of her work in “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Definitely, Maybe.” Nonetheless, she remains a pleasure to watch, the rare child star whose talent justifies the stardom. Butler is adequate as Alex Rover, but there’s a “what-the-heck-am-I-doing-here?” feeling to his portrayal of the dad. Foster, more at home in drama, seems uneasy with the physical comedy demands of her role but is such a superb actress that the damage is minimal.

Multiple-writer credit is rarely a harbinger of cinematic excellence. “Nim’s Island” had four scripters (two of whom doubled as directors), and there is a sense that it was assembled from the best efforts of each. The result is a movie that moves too slowly at the beginning and in the middle, too swiftly in the final act.

But that’s the quibble of a grown-up. The kids who “Nim’s Island” was made for could care less whether it has a tidy script. Friday’s first showing at Tanglewood was packed with the little critters, and for the most part they were rapturously attentive (read: quiet) throughout.