Saturday, 11 February 2012

Whale tale: "Big Miracle"

Big Miracle is nice-bordering-on-insipid half-term entertainment based on the true events that saw a trio of Californian grey whales trapped in the freezing waters of Barrow, Alaska in 1988, momentarily catching the collective eye of America. In this telling, the whales' plight was an opportunity for everybody to pull together. There's local news cameraman John Krasinski, who's assumed unlikely hero status for bringing Def Leppard cassettes to the natives, and becomes the first to break the story; there's environmental activist Drew Barrymore, who just so happens to be Krasinski's ex; there's even industrialist Ted Danson, who lends his company's hoverbarge to the rescuers in order to get the whales out of an oilfield he wants to tap.

The director is Ken Kwapis, a safe pair of hands when it comes to both animal matters (Dunston Checks In) and, increasingly, sprawling ensemble pieces (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, He's Just Not That Into You). Kwapis evidently likes actors, and here finds room for a crowd of welcome faces (deep breath): Tim Blake Nelson as a conservationist, Dermot Mulroney as the stern colonel piloting the barge to its destination, Rob Riggle and James LeGros as the Minnesotan brothers behind a de-icer company, Kathy Baker as Danson's wife, eventually even a Reagan impersonator Kwapis can only bring himself to show from the back, and the crew of a Soviet icebreaker who somehow got roped in as the whole dog-and-pony-and-aquatic mammal show went international. Yet two groups get lost amid this overstuffed, sometimes amusing to-ing and fro-ing: the whales, who end up playing second fiddle to the mass of human life staring into the ice holes, and the local Inupiat indians, who just so happen to want to hunt the whales for their meat.

The latter's virtual exclusion from proceedings speaks to a deeper vein of conservatism running beneath its Drew-approved eco-politics: there's even the vaguest suggestion that the reckless heroine needs to be tamed, or at least the intervention of others, in order to finally deserve the good guy who'd dumped her. I suspect something this old-fashioned is onto a loser going up against the super self-aware The Muppets, which actually strikes a more pleasing balance between humans and critters; for all its hustle and bustle, the work of actors keeping themselves busy in subzero conditions, much of Big Miracle's narrative thrust remains predictable, never more so than the love triangle between Krasinski, Barrymore and the perpetually ill-served Kristen Bell in yet another unflattering big-screen role as a pushy news reporter. My inner 12-year-old grew impatient: who cares about the subplots and Joey Buttafuoco jokes, don't these people realise there are whales that need rescuing?

Big Miracle is in cinemas nationwide.

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