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Paradise Gained and Lost: Welcome to (high tech) Fantasy Island 

Little Miss Sunshine goes tropical.Feeling the need to escape the desperate last gasp of winter, I decided to go to the one movie with the

Little Miss Sunshine goes tropical.Feeling the need to escape the desperate last gasp of winter, I decided to go to the one movie with the word "island" in its title. The film Nim's Island sets sail in the Pacific, stowing away somewhere near the Cook Islands in a tree house resembling a high tech version of the classic dwelling in Swiss Family Robinson. Surrounded by a tropical paradise (punctuated by the occasional storm), friendly animals and good books, I could have spent the entire 135 minutes there. Alas, such serenity soon dissolved as if it were a sandcastle.

Life on Nim's Island initially seems idyllic, and although there wouldn't be much of a story if it stayed that way, the film's identity clearly suffers from having two directors (Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin) and four screenwriters. It gets mired in at least three different genres; is it a cutesy adventure movie, a high tech/deserted island survival story, or the charming tale of a child who lives with her marine biologist dad while using her wits and imagination to create an exciting and richly self-sustaining life? The film is most successful when in the latter mode, wading in the turquoise waters of Nim's (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine) imagination, while fending off the intermittent intruder.

This adventure comedy, based on the book by Wendy Orr and Kelly Millard, lands on an isolated, magical island. When her father disappears during a research quest on a sailboat that gets caught in a storm, Nim begins to communicate through e-mail with the reclusive author of a novel she's reading (the Adventures of Alex Rover), whose hero is the world's greatest adventurer.

Jody Foster is the obsessive-compulsive, severely agoraphobic, yet wildly successful author, Alexandra Rover. This is Foster's version of Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone, the writer whose life is the total opposite of the subject of her fiction. Foster's role as Alexandra Rover, however, is slightly annoying overkill. And the character's conversion from quivering coward to happy island dweller is fraught with inane antics, making us long to return to the action on the island. But the juxtaposition of Nim climbing up into a volcano, while Alenxandra is afraid to go out to get the mail is effective.

Hunky Gerard Butler (King Leonidias, 300), treats us to two characters; he plays the Alex Rover from the novel (existing only in the imagination of the two women), as well as Nim's father. All eyes are on him as he deftly switches between characters, evoking a kind of Indiana Jonesish persona. He presents by far the most appealing characters in the film.

Although the film lacks a distinct style, and its dialogue is somewhat stilted and diluted, Nim's Island does manage to delight in other respects. It pokes fun at the whole cruise ship milieu, with the arrival of a boat named "Buccaneer" on the island, like a Club Med vessel bursting forth with obese, but colorful Australian tourists, who just want to eat, drink and play games. Fred the lizard and his flying companions made me laugh more than once, and Silky the sea lion is reminiscent of Flipper. The house, constructed of bamboo and solar panels is creative and inviting. And most importantly, the movie champions self-reliance, books, creativity and the use of the imagination.

So if you can leap, hop, fly, swing or swoop to the movie, both adults and kids will appreciate the rope swings, zip line, and Tarzan-like lifestyle on Nim's Island.

Starring: Abigail Breslin, Jody Foster and Gerard Butler. Directed by Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin. Rated PG.  

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