Foster’s family-adventure tale gets laughs, doesn’t reach for action climax
Our beautiful Jodie Foster, with whom we’ve stuck "through all the rotten and the bliss," shows her lighter side for the first time since "Maverick" in "Nim’s Island." With two children who won’t be old enough to see most of her films for another decade, it’s natural that she’d want to make a family film with a literary pedigree so they can see that Mommy’s an actress and have fun watching her. Besides, even if 45 is the new 35, Foster’s stunt double won’t be able to swing through trees forever.
There’s not much in "Nim’s Island" for anyone who’s reached their teen years or beyond. And I suspect the lack of an action climax will disappoint younger viewers — especially masculine-oriented kids of either gender, who have had a rollicking good time until then.
"Nim’s Island" is a remote volcanic outcropping in the South Pacific. Nim (Abigail Breslin), 11, has lived there with her widowed, marine biologist father, Jack Rusoe (Gerard Butler), since she was four — after they sailed around the globe twice to find "our own perfect, secret world."
Nim is "island-schooled," and her only friends are Selkie the sea lion, Galileo the pelican and Fred the lizard. Jack’s not interested in creatures of more than one cell. Their only physical contact with the outside world is an occasional visit from a supply ship bringing them necessities, including the latest adventure novels about Alex Rover (also Butler), written by Rover himself.
Except that Alex the writer is actually Alexandra (Foster). And in her own way, she lives as lonely a life as Nim and her dad. Alexandra lives in San Francisco but never leaves her apartment because she’s agoraphobic. (She also has OCD to explain the movie being virtually sponsored by a specific hand sanitizer and the one brand of soup she lives on.) The only person she talks to is "Alex," her imaginary hero. (That he looks like Nim’s father in Nim’s imagination makes sense, but it’s a stretch for his creator to see him the same way, even if it helps set up the ending.)
Their worlds connect when Alexandra, who’s hit a wall in her writing, needs information about volcanoes and finds an article Jack wrote about Fire Mountain, which looms over their home. She e-mails him, which leads to correspondence with Nim because Jack’s away on a two-day expedition. A storm strands him at sea, and Nim has no one to turn to for help except Alex, still believing her to be a heroic man.
With "Alex" feeding Alexandra her own philosophy, "Be the hero of your own story," the author gets up the courage to travel halfway around the world to help a little girl.
Meanwhile, Nim is scaring away a cruise ship that’s dared to land on her island for an afternoon of recreation. A brief encounter with a boy her own age plants seeds of doubt about life as a hermit.
So far, not so bad. There’s a lot of cutting between Jack’s adventures at sea, Nim’s on shore and Alexandra’s en route — involving travel by plane, ship, helicopter and rowboat, all in stormy weather.
Unfortunately, getting there is all the fun. The climax is emotional rather than physical, which doesn’t fit with all that’s led up to it. It does resolve everything tidily, but children who have been enjoying the broad comedy and mild peril to this point may feel let down.
Foster’s not going for another Oscar here, and it’s nice to see her relatively relaxed, even when her character isn’t. Breslin shows signs of growing into quite a pretty girl, which you’d never have guessed from "Little Miss Sunshine." Together they build a clubhouse on "Nim’s Island" with No Boys Allowed.
Directors: Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett
Cast: Jodie Foster, Abigail Breslin, Gerard Butler, Alphonso McAuley and Peter Callan
Opens April 4 in wide release.
1 hr., 36 min. PG
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 4, 2008.