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2 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Nim's Island
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Foster's Island for Imaginary Heroes"
2 stars

Long before she became one of the most acclaimed American actresses working today (a ranking that she still deserves despite wasting her talents in recent years on such mindless sludge as “Flightplan” and the truly odious “The Brave One”), Jodie Foster first made a name for herself in the 1970's as the child star of such family-oriented films as “Freaky Friday,” “Candleshoe” and “Bugsy Malone.” With the exception of the latter title, a wonderfully weird musical gangster parody with an all-kiddie cast that needs to be released on DVD right this very minute, these films weren’t very good–they were loud and silly and largely one-note in the manner of most of the dismal live-action product issued by Disney during this particular era–but Foster’s performances were easily the best things about them. With her quicksilver wit, brash attitude and grave intelligence, her mere presence lent a much-needed edge to the proceedings that made her a favorite with kids and adults alike. Now, more than three decades, Foster has returned to the world of family-oriented filmmaking, a decision no doubt inspired in part by the notion of making a film that her own children could watch, and the result, “Nim’s Island,” shows that the more than some things change, the more they stay the same. Like her previous kid movies, it isn’t very good–it is loud and silly and largely one-note–but Foster’s gamely funny performance is easily the best thing about it.

Based on the kid-lit book by Wendy Orr, the film stars Abigail Breslin as Nim Rusoe, a precocious little girl who lives with a bunch of adorable animals–a sea lion, a lizard and a pelican among them–and her marine biologist father (Gerard Butler) on one of those otherwise deserted island in the South Pacific where no other human beings have ever ventured but the internet access is impeccable. One day, while Dad is off getting plankton samples, Nim receives a message from Alex Rover, the author of a series of adventure novels featuring him journeying across the world and getting in and out of tight spots, asking for some information about the volcano that is on their island. The two bond via their Apple computer hookup (commercial plug #1) and when a bad storm hits and Dad is lost at sea, Nim begs Alex to come to the island and help her find her father. Alas, what she doesn’t realize is that Alex Rover is actually author Alexandra Rover (Foster) and that instead of being a dashing, devil-may-care adventurer, she is actually an OCD-afflicted bundle of tics who only eats Progresso soup (commercial plug #2), is constantly sanitizing her hands with Purell (commercial plug #3) and is so terrified of the outside world that she hasn’t left her own home in months. Nevertheless, inspired by a guilt trip laid on her by her fictional alter ego (Butler in a second role), she embarks on a slapstick voyage halfway across the world in order to get to Nim. While she is off getting the full Third World travel experience, Nim is using her wiles to scare away a group of cruise ship tourists who have chosen to remake the island as a vacation spot (we can tell these people are monstrous because they are all really, really fat) and Dad is out in the middle of the ocean frantically trying to repair his badly damaged boat so that he can get back home to Nim.

Although “Nim’s Island” is clearly meant to be nothing more than frothy fun for the kids, the combination of a plot that plays like “The Ballad of Jack & Rose” with more sea lions and a trio of characters who are each suffering from serious emotional problems (in a prologue, we learn that Nim’s mom died many years ago–all I’ll say in that regard is that a blue whale was heavily involved–and the retreat to the island seems to be a manifestation of her and her father’s inability to cope with that loss) adds a grim psychological weight to the proceedings that the film is simply not equipped to deal with in any significant manner. Instead, we are meant to be blithely charmed by their quirky tics and eccentricities but there is such a disconnect between the type of movie that co-directors Mark Levin & Jennifer Flackett wanted to produce and the one that they have actually made that the entire thing has a weirdly schizophrenic feel that no amount of cutesy animals, cutesier actors (Breslin basically redoes the schtick that made her America’s sweetheart in the fairly appalling “Little Miss Sunshine” and Butler, the other white meathead of contemporary cinema, proves here without a doubt that he should never again be allowed to appear in a film that requires him to play a double role, adopt an American accent, act opposite a wise pelican or essentially do anything that doesn’t involve him kicking Persian ass) and third-rate slapstick (especially the “Home Alone”-inspired slapstick that dominates much of the last few reels) can quite overcome. While little kids may like the idea of seeing a little kid fending largely for herself on her own island and will probably giggle at some of the sillier stuff (never underestimate the ability of a wee tot to be entertained by the notion of a farting sea lion), even they may find the story to be a little bit too predictable for their tastes–even the youngest viewers will instinctively realize early on that the film is probably not going to end with Alex still trapped in her apartment, Dad resting on the bottom of the ocean and Nim adopted by chunky Australian vacationers–and viewers who are past the big 1-0 are liable to find the whole thing slightly tedious from the get-go.

The one thing that keeps “Nim’s Island” from sinking into total uselessness is the reasonably nifty performance from Foster as Alexandra. It isn’t a great piece of acting by any means and I suspect that when Foster begins receiving her presumably endless string of Lifetime Achievement Awards, this particular film is probably not going to figure too heavily in the adjacent clip packages. That said, she throws herself into the part with a fearlessness and heedless energy that is both surprising and entirely winning. The sight of her doing all sorts of slapstick–swinging through trees and pratfalls and the like–may be disconcerting at first but I kind of enjoyed watching her capering about with the same kind of total commitment that she usually brings to her more serious-minded performances. In the long run, “Nim’s Island” isn’t very good but as long as Foster is on-screen goofing off, she manages to liven things up enough to temporarily keep you from noticing.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17013&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/06/08 00:37:53
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User Comments

9/15/14 teddy crescendo I want to bugger Abigail Breslin 5 stars
9/22/10 bored mom She's old enough to handle island research but not enough to tell apart fictional people? 3 stars
6/15/09 Dr.Lao Boy, that was some sickly sweet pablum alrighty 2 stars
9/07/08 Carol Durbin I thought it was cute and a clean family movie. Needed to extend the ending though. 4 stars
4/13/08 Sophia The best movie ever!!!!! I loved it! It's sooooo awesome! Fabulous! Funny! 2 thumbs up! 5 stars
4/08/08 shaw A nice move, Jodie! 4 stars
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  04-Apr-2008 (PG)
  DVD: 05-Aug-2008



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