An Alaskan Inupiat tribe, an oil corporation CEO, a Soviet freighter crew and Ronald Reagan team up to save whales trapped in the Arctic ice and then celebrate with Mexican food. Sound ridiculous? This is the tangled plot of “Big Miracle,” a movie released Feb. 3 that explores the ability of this motley crowd to overcome cultural divides and join together in an international rescue mission.
The movie often lacks character depth and sometimes resorts to tacky sentimentality, but the unique plot will engage younger movie-goers — or just the young at heart. John Krasinski, known for his role as Jim in “The Office,” plays an aspiring journalist who stumbles upon three grey whales trapped under ice while reporting in lonesome Barrow, Alaska. Drew Barrymore is his ex-girlfriend and a radical Greenpeace advocate who helps mobilize support to save the whales.
Though the movie focuses on developing the main characters’ varied motivations — selfish or otherwise — for helping the whales, director Ken Kwapi never resorts to dehumanizing the “bad guys.” The most poignant scene comes when Barrymore says to the oil drilling company CEO, “You’re not as easy to hate as I thought you’d be.” In a nutshell, that’s the message Kwapi tries to get across: sure, we all have our differences, but once in a while, something can unite even the most different group of strangers.
Because “Big Miracle” devotes so much time and energy to displaying the huge cast of main characters, audiences may walk out a little disappointed with the two-dimensional characters. Kwapi makes a feeble stab at glossing over this weak spot by developing a romantic relationship between Krasinski and Barrymore, but it feels forced.
What the film lacks in character depth, it makes up for with breathtaking images of the whales. They may be animatronics, but they seem like the real thing. “Big Miracle” pays homage to a time-tested formula — introduce threatened animals, save them from mortal peril and bring everyone closer together in the process — but it also avoids excessive cliché and perhaps coolest of all, stays (mostly) true to the original, real-life story. If you’re looking for a feel-good film, “Big Miracle” is the movie for you.