There are remakes that are done for the right reason – that truly bring something new and different – a new perspective or a new twist – to the table that is cinema. Nim’s Island does none of these things. But the real tragedy is that it’s not even a remake.
Nim Rusoe (Abigail Breslin) is an 11 year old girl who lives on a remote island with her scientist/widower father, Jack (Gerard Butler). One suspiciously sunny day, Jack is scheduled to go on a sea expedition and Nim refuses to go along, insisting she stay alone on the island and help hatch the sea turtle’s eggs. With an ominous “See you in two days,” Jack sets out to sea. The first night Jack is gone, a storm hits! Deceptively plucky Nim survives it just fine, but Jack is not so lucky and gets stranded at sea. Nim’s only hope for survival (not to mention to save her island from rowdy, drunken, uncouth and overweight Americ…I mean, Australian tourists) is Nim’s favorite adventurer on paper, one Alex Rover. But Nim doesn’t know that the rugged and courageous Alex is actually a creation of obsessive compulsive San Fransican Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster) who has been emailing Jack for help with her latest book. Despite her fears, neuroses and tightly wound urbanity, Alexandra decides to track down Nim and help her. What follows (and, to be fair, what precedes) is a jumbled, predictable, uneven, hypersentimental mess that leaves a smudge across Jodie Foster’s Oscars more noticeable than her impossibly toned legs.
Where a movie like ‘Romancing the Stone‘ succeeds in swashbuckling suspense and romance, ‘Nim’s Island’ falls face first into cheesiness with dialogue that borders on self-parody and scenes that we’ve watched a hundred times before. When Alexandra gets her first email from Nim (don’t ask me how their deserted island has an internet connection faster than mine) she reads the signature line and gazes longingly out the window, sighing to herself “What an interesting name…” Later, she’s emailing Nim from her treadmill and literally, actually falls off. You know when the treadmill goes faster than the runner and the runner shoots off the back? You know, the most hilariously original gag since slapstick co-existed with slapstick? Yeah, that’s what happens! Gold, right? What do you mean that gag is tired?
Though the high-cache stars of Nim’s Island can be hopelessly charming in the right context: this script, direction and movie are most certainly not it. Despite the eagerness with which Foster dives into Alexandra’s neuroses, Foster’s elastic faces and exaggerated physical comedy come off as desperate attempts to prove she both isn’t too old for the role (which she really is) and hasn’t succumbed to Hollywood pressures to Botox (the jury is still out on that one). Where Breslin’s charms were obvious when surrounded by the solid performances of humans like Toni Collette, Steve Carell and Greg Kinnear, they are a little harder to parse when most of her screen time is shared with a flatulent sea lion and an incorrigible lizard named Fred. Gerard Butler is still damn sexy as both Jack Rusoe and the Alex Rover of Alexandra’s imagination, but when he’s spouting lines like “Be the hero of your own life story” his charisma fades into nothing more than a slightly less off-putting Tony Robbins.
Nim’s Island was directed by husband and wife team Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin (they also helped with the adaptation from Wendy Orr’s 1999 novel) who previously collaborated on the little seen Little Manhattan. The hackneyed direction, with constantly swelling music and match cuts unmatched by any other island adventure move so far this April makes me think that this is a pair that is truly in love: otherwise, they never could have been so distracted as to put together something this derivative.
Alas, Nim’s Island like so many films that could have been better before, is redeemed by the fact that it will probably be fun for kids. There are little dances, funny sea lions, flying lizards and goofy faces to distract them from a thin and plodding story that doesn’t really say anything. But why not just wait a couple of years and show them Romancing the Stone? Or just show them now. Kids are growing up faster these days, anyway.