Big Miracle (**)

6

A well intentioned film with little going in its favor, ‘Big Miracle’ wastes its potentially interesting subject matter on a plot and characters that go nowhere, and slowly. A true story more fit for a documentary than a romantic comedy, the tale of a group of people trying to save some trapped whales in Alaska keeps opting to focus on the humans when they have nothing at all interesting to say or do. It’s never offensively bad, but everyone just seems to be going through the motions, and especially in the case of leads Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski, you simply expect more out of them. Director Ken Kwapis has always been a thoroughly mediocre filmmaker, and this continues the trend, only now with a slight downward spiral. The script keeps jamming new and pointless characters into a story that couldn’t be calling for an ensemble less while shoehorning in a romance that just doesn’t work. Characters do things for no reason at all except that the film just randomly decides that they should. The flick is a mess. It’s got its heart in the right place, but the execution is just way off. For that main reason and plenty of others, it’s not coming anywhere close to a recommendation from me.

The movie takes place in a small Alaskan town where nothing ever happens. Local news reporter Adam Carlson (Krasinski) wants nothing more than to find a story that’s good enough and high profile enough to get him down to the mainland. His opportunity arrives when a family of 3 Gray Whales become trapped in the ice. Without quick action, they’ll die, and the world begins to take notice. Adam finds his ex-girlfriend and current GreenPeace worker Rachel Kramer (Barrymore) arriving to pressure the Governor (Stephen Root) to help, while an oil man (Ted Danson) looking to fix his image lends a hand as well. At the same time, reporters (including Kristen Bell) are descending on the scene, while a worker at the White House (played by Vinessa Shaw) gets the government involved, sending a pilot (Dermot Mulroney) on to the scene. No one can quite agree on how to help, but they all know that time is running out. What they’ll need is a miracle, and a big one at that…sorry, I couldn’t resist.

There’s no notable acting in this flick whatsoever. Everyone is merely showing up to cash a paycheck, with the possible exception of Drew Barrymore. The thing is, she does nothing to show it on the screen. She was so much better last year in ‘Going the Distance’ that this comes up well short by comparison. She’s just doing her normal thing with nothing to write home about. John Krasinski is wasted in a lead role that seems artificially beefed up from a supporting role at the early scripting stage. He’s a reactionary actor, but here he has very little to react to. The rest of the cast is in the same boat. Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, Stephen Root, Vinessa Shaw, and Dermot Mulroney are recognizable actors with roles that require absolutely nothing of them. Also on hand in supporting roles are Tim Blake Nelson, Rob Riggle, Kathy Baker, and Ahmaogak Sweeney are also on hand, but equally forgettable. No one embarrasses themselves, but no one does anything memorable either.

At no point does the direction of Ken Kwapis bring anything to the movie. Tons of scenes go on too long and lack any sort of focus. Depending on the moment, the film is either a comedy, a romance, a melodrama, or an environmental message movie. There’s also a lot of politics thrown in randomly, but that’s more the fault of the flawed screenplay. Scribes Jack Amiel and Michael Begler (working off of the book by Thomas Rose) don’t give their film any focus or even a real point. It’s shoddy work, even by the loose standards you have to judge this movie with. I wasn’t expecting much at all, and I still managed to be pretty disappointed in the final product.

‘Big Miracle’ is the type of lazy February rom-com that we too often get each year. Sometimes we get surprisingly good ones (a recent example of that is ‘Definitely, Maybe’), but more often than not Hollywood seems extra lazy in the area of Valentine’s Day. I won’t say that this is a truly bad movie, but it’s a frustratingly bland one that overstays its welcome by about 15 minutes and changes thematic directions seemingly by the scene. Even if you are big into whales, this is going to come up short. Last year we had a nice little whale documentary called, ironically enough ‘The Whale’, but this year we haven’t gotten anything to take note of. You can safely pass this one up when it opens next month. It’s just not very good.

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