Director Ken Kwapis delivers another moderately heartwarming tale about an animal rescue with far too many subplots in his latest film, “Big Miracle.” Kwapis frequently helms movies with interwoven story lines like “He’s Just Not That Into You” and “Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants,” and he returns to theaters with this mildly enjoyable, kid-friendly drama.
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John Krasinski (TV’s “The Office”) stars as Adam Carlson, a television reporter who catches a lucky break when he discovers a family of whales who are trapped. Also starring is Drew Barrymore (“Charlie’s Angels”) as Greenpeace activist and Carlson’s ex-girlfriend Rachel Kramer. Krasinski gives his typical charming performance, while Barrymore seems rather lifeless in her attempts to play an animal activist convincingly. The underlying romantic story seems out of place thanks to their astonishing lack of chemistry.
Together, they draw the attention of media outlets around the world to the plight of the whales, delightfully named Fred, Wilma and Bamm-Bamm. A ragtag group, comprised of locals, reporters and outside helpers, flocks to Point Barrow, Alaska and manages to accomplish a miracle that is lost under an overwhelming number of story lines.
With a cast of surprisingly good actors, including Tim Blake Nelson (“O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) and Kristen Bell (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), the film is cluttered by all of the romantic, political and social subplots that arise throughout. With multiple couples falling in love and too many characters to count vying for good PR, none of the actors are really given the opportunity to shine because they are confined to such limited story arcs.
Scriptwriters Jack Amiel and Michael Begler wrote the film’s characters in an irritatingly banal fashion, with everyone depicted in a flattering light — even the oil tycoon has a good heart. And the attempts to make the characters seem more dimensional feel contrived. At one point, Kramer unconvincingly yells “I’m going to tell (everyone) that Ronald Reagan killed those whales!” in an over-the-top attempt to be ruthless in the fight for the whales.
While the film is marketed toward children, parents will appreciate the historical references, including a phone call between Reagan and Mikhail “Gorby” Gorbachev, and a recorded appearance of Sarah Palin from back in the day. Both children and adults alike will enjoy the few highlights of the movie, which include a stirring show of determination by the crew of a Soviet liner and a humorously intimate moment between Krasinski’s character and a helicopter pilot with a frozen-shut eye.
Ultimately, “Big Miracle” falls short. A few decent laughs and touching moments sprinkled here and there can’t save this movie from itself. Perhaps a more fitting idea for a film based on a whale rescue would be to actually focus on the whales.