Darren Michaels/Universal Pictures
Owen Gleiberman
February 08, 2012 AT 05:00 AM EST

Big Miracle

Current Status
In Season
Wide Release Date
Drew Barrymore, Kristen Bell, John Krasinski
Ken Kwapis
Universal Pictures
Drama, PG

We gave it a C+

Big Miracle is an inspirational true-life drama, set in 1988, that tells the story of Operation Breakthrough, the international effort to rescue three gray whales that got trapped under the Arctic ice near the small town of Point Barrow, Ala. John Krasinski, bleached of his usual hipster irony and all the more likable for it, plays the TV reporter who first spies the whales poking their noses up through a hole in the ice in order to breathe. Spearheading the rescue mission is Rachel Kramer, a Greenpeace activist played by Drew Barrymore, and I have to give credit to Barrymore for coming on not as a cuddly saintly savior but as just the sort of person who has an abundant compassion for whales because she’s got so many neurotic issues with the human animal.

Intercut with actual period news reports delivered by Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and Connie Chung, Big Miracle wants to be a nostalgic tale of how, back in the good old ’80s, everyone could come together when it mattered. At times, the movie is like a cheesy rabble-rouser made in the ’80s. What separates it from, say, Free Willy is that on the surface, at least, the film has an amiable cynicism. Its hook, which becomes a running joke, is that everyone who participates in the rescue mission is in it for his or her own selfish motives. The Greenpeace activist has her eco-princess self-righteousness. The greedy oil man (Ted Danson) who agrees to lend his hover barge to break up the ice is just looking for some environmental-friendly PR. Yet by the time President Reagan enlists the Soviets for help by picking up the phone to say, ”Hello, Gorby, it’s Ronnie,” the movie has become a we-are-the-world lovefest. Big Miracle is harmless enough, but what’s annoying about it is its aura of fake activism. The movie doesn’t seem to get that it’s exactly when the news media began to devote more time to subjects like whales that it started to turn into news not for activists but for couch potatoes. C+

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