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Originally published Friday, April 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Funny Jodie Foster saves "Nim's Island"

A sweet-natured family ad- venture film that should be quite popular with the grade-school girls at which it's aimed, "Nim's Island" features...

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

"Nim's Island," with Jodie Foster, Abigail Breslin, Gerard Butler. Directed by Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin, from a screenplay by Joseph Kwong, Paula Mazur, Levin and Flackett, based on the novel by Wendy Orr. 95 minutes. Rated PG for mild adventure action and brief language. Several theaters.

A sweet-natured family ad-

venture film that should be quite popular with the grade-school girls at which it's aimed, "Nim's Island" features an appearance by that rarest of creatures: Jodie Foster in comic mode. As the ultra-neurotic writer Alexandra Rover, Foster shrieks and cringes and fusses excessively with hand sanitizer, and she's funny enough to make you wonder why this fine, serious actress doesn't lighten up more often.

Alexandra, under the more rakish pen name of Alex Rover, writes best-selling novels in which a swashbuckling hero (Gerard Butler, ever-grinning) travels the world in search of adventure and peril. These novels are read avidly by 11-year-old Nim (Abigail Breslin), who lives on a remote island in the South Pacific with her scientist father (also Butler). No other human has ever set foot on this island, so we're told (though, remarkably, it appears to have wireless Internet). When Nim's father takes off for a few days of scientific exploration to parts unknown, the independent girl is alone with her animal friends. Intruders arrive, bent on establishing the island as a cruise-ship destination, and Nim desperately seeks help — via e-mail to San Francisco, where Alexandra holes up in the apartment she's afraid to leave.

And so we have a three-pronged suspense film taking place: Will Nim be able to ward off the invaders, with help from a few flying lizards? Will her father, whose boat has sprung a leak, make his way home to her? Will Alexandra, gritting her teeth and determined to overcome her agoraphobia, find her way to the island, even though the airport security officer has confiscated her hand sanitizer? Will Nim's pet sea lion's flatulence be enough to repel the cruise-ship passengers? (OK, sorry, that's four prongs. Just thought the kids would want to know that, yes, there's some flatulence humor here, as all kid movies are apparently required to have.)

Breslin, who has to play most of her scenes by herself, has her usual eerily focused confidence (though directors Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin seem to be urging her to smile too much); Butler brings his trademark hearty charm. But it's Foster's presence that lifts this movie above pleasant mediocrity. Perpetually flabbergasted at what she's doing, Alexandra is the film's wild card and ultimate hero, transforming herself into an adventurer, one wrong step at a time.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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