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CAST, SETTING DON'T MAKE 'NIM'S ISLAND' A TROPICAL TREAT.

Byline: Evan Henerson

Staff Writer

An 11-year-old girl lives an un-Robinson-Crusoe-like existence on a South Seas island. She has a doting marine biologist father, a sea lion and a lizard for best friends, and an active volcano in her back yard. Could life possibly get any more dazzling?

You bet your alohas it could if the kid-friendly "Nim's Island" is any indication. A rote tale in which all the really exciting adventure happens to the adults, "Nim's Island" makes scant use of its best resources. I'm not sure what's more depressing: seeing potential tween megastar Abigail Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine") underused or watching Jodie Foster clutching a Progresso soup can for dear life and smacking head-first into a tree.

The two women are part of the same movie, although it takes most of the film's 95 minutes for two teams of writers -- adapting Wendy Orr's novel -- to get them together.

Nim (Breslin) and her father, Jack (Gerard Butler), don't actually want anybody else on their island; they're protecting (or hogging) paradise. When a ship arrives on a weekly basis to bring provisions, Jack rows out to meet it.

Then Jack sets out on a two-day excursion to track some new species of plankton. Nim, justifiably asserting her independence, stays behind to hatch some sea turtles and will stay in touch with her dad (she usually calls him "Jack") by radio. Given how resourceful this kid is, the separation doesn't raise an eyebrow.

Until a major storm batters both the island and Jack's boat, knocking out his radio. A worried Nim sends out a distress e-mail to Alex Rover, the author of her favorite series of adventure books. If anybody can save Nim or her father, the girl figures, it's Rover.

Trouble is, Alex Rover is actually an agoraphobic San Francisco author (Foster) who hoards hand sanitizer and can barely step out her front door to get the mail. With her fictional adventurer (Butler again) brought to life and spurring her on, Alex walks, planes, buses and rows her way into the Pacific.

Now, while you may not find agoraphobia a laughing matter, the movie certainly does, leaving Foster's character perched awkwardly between questing heroine and butt-of-the-joke victim. The actress, who would have played Nim in her kid acting days, is game but largely out of place, and her plight takes up too much of the film.

Nim's "distress" is even more problematic since this is a girl who should know better ways of enlisting help than S.O.S.-ing writers. A dopey subplot -- clearly targeting kid laughs -- has Nim staging a "Home Alone"-style assault on cruise ship passengers looking to use the island as a stopover.

Directors Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin (who are also two of the writers) might have spent more footage reveling in the general coolness of Nim and her pre-peril island life. Better yet, if pre-teen girl empowerment is the goal, kick Rover out of the tale and have Nim figure out for herself how to bring dad home.

That certainly wouldn't be any more unlikely than a pelican bringing a tool belt to a distressed mariner. That's a mighty picturesque island Nim has. What it needs is quite a bit more magic.

Evan Henerson (818) 713-3651

evan.henerson@dailynews.com

NIM'S ISLAND - Two stars

>PG: mild adventure action and brief language.

>Starring: Abigail Breslin, Jodie Foster, Gerard Butler.

>Director: Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin.

>Running time: 1 hr. 35 min.

>Playing: Area wide.

>In a nutshell: At least she's smarter than Gilligan.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Nim (Abigail Breslin) and her marine biologist dad live an idyllic life on a secluded South Seas island until he goes missing and she must find him, enlisting the help of the reclusive author of her favorite adventure books in "Nim's Island."
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Title Annotation:LA.COM
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 4, 2008
Words:635
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