Darren Michaels/Universal Pictures

Review in a Hurry: This whale of a tale—an inspirational rescue-adventure about three gray whales trapped in the Arctic Circle—would be hard to swallow if it weren't based on actual events from 1988. Whale fans will blubber, but uneven Miracle flounders in its hunt for narrative focus.

The Bigger Picture: "Everyone loves whales," says TV reporter Adam (John Krasinski), explaining the international frenzy that engulfs Barrow, Alaska. Indeed, you too will be rooting for the injured family of marine mammals. The same can't be said for the human characters, who are less affecting than their animatronic costars.

Adam from Anchorage breaks the whales-in-peril story and solicits help from a native Alaskan boy (Ahmaogak Sweeney) and Greenpeace activist Rachel (Drew Barrymore), who just happens to be Adam's ex-girlfriend.

The news story soon nets a wider audience, and as the national media feed, disparate players converge at the small ice-hole, which threatens to freeze over and drown the whales. Hoping for a PR makeover, an oil tycoon (Ted Danson) offers his ice-breaking barge, while the White House tries to boost VP George H.W. Bush's favorability by enlisting the National Guard and even reaching out to the Soviets.

The film's level of cynicism—nearly everyone is driven by political and/or financial gain—is a pleasant and amusing surprise. Barrow locals also cash in, stiffing visitors with outrageous hotel and food costs.

However, Adam and Rachel's romance, invented for the screenplay, is forced and unnecessary. Though both are affable performers, Barrymore and Krasinski generate little heat amid the snow.

Typical of true-story adaptations, Miracle struggles with so many characters, subplots, and themes (including Inupiat tradition vs. modern culture), and can't settle on a solid point-of-view. Through whose eyes are we whale watching? Also problematic is the film's slip-sliding tone, with its mix of archival news footage, phony scenes of an unseen Ronald Reagan, and jokey references to the Exxon Valdez and that other Alaska disaster, Sarah Palin.

Ultimately, this whale tale, though well intentioned, gets trapped by its own big ambitions.

The 180—a Second Opinion: Gotta love the '80s references! The awesome production design incorporates typewriters, Walkmans, Betamax cams, and more. Hey, look—there's Connie Chung!

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