Escapism, family style, has surely taken sorrier forms than “Nim’s Island,” an adventure set in a tropical paradise inhabited by a plucky, resourceful girl. But this movie is strictly for kids young enough to be excited by PG-level action and surprised by mediocre escapades and formula.
The movie might have been a delightfully quirky or colorful romp through comically treacherous terrain, had writer-directors Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett (“Little Manhattan”) displayed the sort of imagination and spirit that they attribute to their title character.
Instead, a vital premise plays out like a tame mix of “Swiss Family Robinson,” “Home Alone,” “Whale Rider” and the Indiana Jones flicks in this adaptation of Wendy Orr’s novel.
Abigail Breslin plays Nim, a bright 11-year-old who lives on a remote South Pacific island with her widowed scientist father, Jack (Gerard Butler), in an eco-friendly house with a plot-convenient Internet connection.
Cavorting with a trusty pelican or exploring a volcanoconstitutes everyday activity for Nim. For real thrills, she reads novels featuring dashing adventurer Alex Rover.
Alex, unbeknownst to Nim, is the literary creation of Alexandra (Jodie Foster), a San Francisco writer too phobia-plagued to leave her house. When Jack goes missing, a distressed Nim e-mails “Alex,” i.e., Alexandra, for help. Feeling compelled to assist the isolated girl, Alexandra braves the outside world and travels to Nim’s island.
Her book character Alex (also played by Butler), appearing in apparition mode, joins and encourages her.
With its spunky heroine, anthropomorphized animals, and antics that include a lizard assault, the movie should satisfy young children.
Its face-your-fears message is worthy. As intrepid girl heroes go, Nim, as played by the deservedly ubiquitous Breslin, beats last year’s Nancy Drew.
But this movie delivers neither the dramatic excitement nor the human element that its premise demands. Unspectacular effects, unfunny slapstick, predictable plot turns and product placement characterize Nim’s and Alexandra’s journeys.
Passages involving crude, overfed tourists and pirate-like greedy tour developers tediously sink.
Whenever a potentially affecting human interaction occurs, the filmmakers cut it short, replacing it with something silly.
As for Foster, she’s entertaining in comic mode but is forced to spend most of her screen time acting jittery. Butler, shades of “P.S. I Love You,” is again playing an uninspiring figment.
More brightly, the use of paper-cutout animation to convey the sadder aspects of Nim’s life — her mother was swallowed by a whale — has fitting fairy-tale appeal.
Nim’s Island (2 stars)
Starring Abigail Breslin,Jodie Foster, Gerard Butler
Written by Mark Levin, Jennifer Flackett, Paula Mazur, Joseph Kwong, based on the book by Wendy Orr
Directed by Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes