Nim’s Island is a perfectly fine film for youngsters. However, seeing as how children aren’t exactly the most discerning of viewers (there was actually a time when I thought Jurassic Park (1993) was the greatest film ever made), this isn’t exactly saying much.
With a screenplay by a whopping four screenwriters (the film is directed by two of them) with credits like Wimbledon (2004) and one episode of Growing Pains, the movie is a case of not just too many fingers in the pie, but too many fingers that belong to people who really have no reason making a pie in the first place. As a result, Nim’s Island never really feels like one cohesive whole; it instead has two separate storylines that ultimately end up having little correlation to one another.
The central character is the titular Nim (Abigail Breslin), an imaginative young girl who lives with her marine biologist father (Gerard Butler) and animal friends (a seal and poorly made CGI pelican and lizard) on a remote island in the South Pacific. Everything is peachy until Dad goes sailing in an attempt to find an unknown protozoan he keeps going on about and ends up wrecking his boat in a squall. Left alone on the island, Nim soon finds out that a cruise ship wants to use her home as a resort—the same ship that was responsible for having caused her mother to be eaten by a whale (this last tidbit ends up having no payoff and is never fully explained). Nim sends an urgent letter for help to her hero, Alex Rover (also played by Gerard Butler), the star of a series of popular adventure novels à la Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt books. What Nim doesn’t realize is that Alex Rover is actually the brainchild/imaginary companion of Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster), an agoraphobic author who rarely leaves her apartment. Alexandra has OCD tendencies and is also apparently delusional, since she hallucinates conversations and interactions with her fictional character Alex.
About half the film is dedicated to the setup, in which Alexandra overcomes her fears and travels halfway around the globe to help Nim. The only problem is that by the time Alexandra shows up, the cruise ship has already been run off through a series of Home Alone-style tricks (including a classy gag involving a flatulent seal—never mind that this joke is ripped off from, of all things, Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993)). And Nim’s father makes his way back only a day later. As a result, Alexandra’s arrival is fairly anticlimactic, causing the whole subplot involving Alex/Alexandra to feel like pointless padding. But then again, pretty much every storyline the film trots out goes absolutely nowhere, from Alexandra’s writer’s block to an erupted volcano. Even the idea that the movie is about Alexandra overcoming her fears is at odds with the film’s ending, since she just trades isolating herself in her apartment for an island belonging to what amounts to a couple of xenophobic recluses.
The only time the film works is in its animated opening, but the opening is soon forgotten as the movie kicks in and we’re lost in an avalanche of forced animal cuteness and sloppy direction. Again, if you’re under 8 years old, you’re likely to look past the film’s shortcomings (though I doubt there are many second graders reading this review). Everyone else, you’re unlikely to find much worthwhile here. Rated PG for mild adventure action and brief language.