Nim’s Island is one weird fucking movie. It’s a scattershot
mess filled with ideas that could each support their own charming kids
movie but are instead all crammed into one exhausting package. The best
way to describe the movie is that it’s Home Alone On Gilligan’s Island doing Quaaludes with Harvey Meets Indiana Jones while Open Water for Six Days Seven Nights plays on the TV. It’s also the most protracted Meet Cute in the history of cinema.

Abigail Breslin
lives on a South Pacific island with her scientist father, Gerard
Butler. It’s a secret island where they have a high tech hut with
satellite internet
and she has a whole posse of anthropomorphic animal buddies. Daddy
Leonidas is lonely because mom was eaten by a whale in the prologue (a
very cute scene, actually, one which gave me a lot of hope for the rest
of the movie), and he spends his days trying to find a new protozoa in
the ocean which he will name after his daughter, Nim. When she’s not
chilling out with her Dr. Doolittle crew, Nim likes to read the books
of Alex Ryder, who is supposedly a globe trotting adventurer relating
his own stories. Like the prologue, the introduction of Ryder is great
– Nim is in her bed, reading his latest book about traveling in Arabia
and suddenly the bed is in the sand, and Ryder’s adventures take place
around her. It’s a wonderful depiction of how magical reading can be.

Things on Nim’s Island get complicated, though – Daddy Leonidas goes
out for a three day voyage and hits bad weather and is trapped at sea;
back at the island Nim sees that a cruise ship has found them and wants
to use her pristine beaches for a day trip. Nim has been in contact
with Alex Ryder, who wants to use the volcano on the island for his
next adventure, so she asks him for help. Little does she know that
she’s been emailing with Alexis Ryder, an OCD, agoraphobic, germaphobic
writer who pens the adventures (played by Jodie Foster). And who is
haunted by a hallucination of Alex Ryder who, just as in Nim’s mind,
looks like Gerard Butler. Her phantasmagorical pal convinces her to
take off to Nim’s Island to help out, and the movie then fractures into
three completely different, unsatisfying stories.

Any of these three subplots could, with some fleshing out, be engaging
stories of their own. And while I have to give credit to directors
Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin for not turning this into some kind of
sub-Goonies screamfest, I do wish
they would have added some incidence to the film. There are a couple of
moments of adventure, but the movie is mostly flat, with characters
spending lots and lots of time worrying more than doing.

Abigail Breslin’s a decent enough actress, but it’s starting to seem 
that she’s going to grow up and make Heather Matarazzo look like a
beauty. She’s sort of odd looking throughout the film, which is
endearing at her current age. Butler has a role that seems like a dry
run for his Watchmen gig – he spends
most of the film alone at sea, fighting off sharks and leaks. Butler’s
amiable as Dad, but when he’s the Spirit of Alex Ryder is when he’s
really crackling. Butler’s agents are trying to position him as the
next big star but this film proves that he’s a really meaty B-actor –
and there’s not a single thing wrong with that.

Jodie Foster, meanwhile, confirms something I’ve long suspected: she
can’t play light. Put the woman in a serious, heavy role and she works,
but ask her to be light and maybe funny and all is lost. Her
performance dances right on the edge of manic, but there’s some kind of
Serious Actor look in her eyes that kept creeping me out during all the
scenes that were supposed to be funny, like she got too into the
character’s neuroses and couldn’t find the humor in being afraid to
walk out your front door.

Nim’s Island is often very beautiful
to look at, and there are some tight CGI animals on display, but the
whimsical nature of the opening fifteen minutes quickly gets frittered
away into some ultimately boring nonsense. Kids may be diverted
initially, but by the sixty minute mark they’ll be wandering the
aisles, looking for something interesting.

5 out of 10