Nim's Island (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Whenever a movie addresses the subject of a girl living alone on a desert island, the soft porn warning lights go on. So it may come as a bit of a surprise that Nim's Island is a family film in which no one considers skinny-dipping. What's more, its target audience is the female under-10 crowd. So forget thoughts of The Blue Lagoon or Paradise. In fact, Nim's Island more closely resembles Home Alone than either of those movies. Ultimately, the story is predictable and often less interesting and insightful than one might hope (which is often the case with movies aimed at younger audiences). Will kids like the film? Perhaps. At least parents stuck watching it with them won't need to imbibe heavily before sitting through it.

Apparently, Nim's mother was swallowed by a Blue Whale. Or at least that's what the opening narration tries to tell us (I think). Her name does not appear to have been Jonah or Pinocchio. This explains (sort of) why Nim (Abigail Breslin) and her marine biologist father, Jack (Gerard Butler) are living alone on a desert island in the South Pacific (insert obligatory Lost one-liner here) - because the mother isn't around to talk any sense into them. Their house is exceptionally nice and powered by the wind and the sun, and they even have Internet access. Since there's no TV on this uncharted desert isle (insert obligatory Gilligan's Island one-liner here), Nim spends her time jogging on the beach, playing with her animal friends, and reading books that tell of the adventures of the great explorer Alex Rover.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the author of the Alex Rover novels, Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster), suffers from acute agoraphobia as well as an obsessive/compulsive disorder. While researching her next book, she encounters a National Geographic article about Jack and e-mails him a question. Nim, answering e-mails while her father is away on an expedition, is thrilled to be in contact with "Alex Rover" and begins an ongoing electronic dialogue. When Jack goes missing during a storm, Alexandra's concern for the girl helps her to overcome her fear of leaving the house and she begins a journey to the island. Now all alone, Nim must figure out how to fight off trespassers - something she does by setting the kinds of traps that would make Macaulay Culkin proud.

There are no acting standouts. For Academy Award winner Jodie Foster, playing a role like this hardly challenges her thespian abilities. She brings humanity to an underwritten character but, in the end, Alexandra isn't very interesting. Gerard Butler is far removed from the part of King Leonidas, the screen alter-ego that lifted him from obscurity, in the dual role of the caring father Jack and the devil-may-care adventurer Alex Rover (an imaginary figure who appears to both Alexandra and Nim for brief conversations). Butler's uneven American accent could use some work, though; it keeps slipping. For Abigail Breslin, this is an opportunity to provide a more physical effort than anything previously asked of her. It's certainly different from her Oscar-nominated work in Little Miss Sunshine.

Nim's Island is straightforward in what it is and does. There's an element of charm to the proceedings but no real sense of peril, even though a hurricane blows through and a volcano threatens to erupt. The Jodie Foster aspect of the plot seems largely superfluous, except that without her scenes, the movie would have trouble exceeding the one-hour mark. The central problem with Nim's Island is that little happens and the character who is changed by the experience is not the lead. There's nothing especially wrong with Nim's Island, but there's not a lot right about it either.

Nim's Island (United States, 2008)

Run Time: 1:36
U.S. Release Date: 2008-04-04
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1