Nim (Breslin) lives with her father (Butler) on a remote island and reads adventure books about Alex Rover (also Butler). When tragedy threatens, Nim calls Rover for help. However, the author is no courageous hero, but an agoraphobic woman (Foster).
The bad news is that this is not a patch on Little Manhattan, the last film from directors Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin, which played like Annie Hall might have if the leads were 11. The good news is that this three-pronged adventure story, set largely on a remote island in the South Pacific, is pacy, pretty and generally good fun.
The story follows Nim (Abigail Breslin), who lives with her scientist father Jack (Gerard Butler) on a remote island with only an impressively well-trained sea lion, pelican and CG lizard for company. Nim loves the stories of Alex Rover, an Indiana Jones/Allan Quatermain type who travels the world finding adventure and trouble in equal measure. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the real Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster) is an agoraphobe chatting to her creation - who, in her imagination (and indeed Nim’s), looks exactly like Butler (so you can guess where this is going). She gets in touch with Nim almost accidentally just after Jack goes missing, and in response to a plea for help from the young girl, sets off to save the day, despite suffering enough neuroses to cripple an elephant.
Foster’s deftly funny, better even than her comic turn in Maverick, reminding us that she can do something other than intense occasionally, and for adult viewers she’s the one who carries the movie. Butler too, lost at sea and desperately bailing water, is on good form - even if the mullet he wears as ‘Alex Rover’ detracts rather from his rakishness.
The weak spot, perhaps surprisingly, is Breslin’s third of the story. So good in indie comedies and quiet dramas, she underplays here to the point of being a bit dull, allowing the trained sea lion to steal the best gags and never quite communicating the terror of a young child alone in the big bad Pacific, or Nim’s subsequent courage. There’s a flabby middle-section plot device about a cruise ship that also falls flat (it would’ve been better with real pirates), leaving her just filling time until Foster appears. But there are neat parallels between the three stories of these essentially lonely people, and the ending, when it comes, makes up for a lot.
Smarter than it sounds and carried by a very funny performance by Foster, this is a kids movie thats bearable for adults too.