Big Miracle: Ken Kwapis’ Alaska Rescue Tale, Starring Drew Barrymore

Sarah Polin might have put Alaska on the map of our collective consciousness and pop culture, for this is the second film released in the same month (after “The Grey”) set in Alaska.

The serviceable (but not more) movie is directed by Ken Kwapis, who’s an efficient, mainstream craftsman (“He’s Just Not That Into You,” “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”) from a screenplay by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, based on the book “Freeing the Whales” by the journalist Thomas Rose.

Inspired by a true story of 1988, “Big Miracle” depicts the rescue effort of an animal-loving volunteer (Drew Barrymore) and a small-town news reporter (John Krasinski), who are joined by a native Alaskan boy (Ahmaogak Sweeney) to save a family of gray whales trapped by rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle.

Though literal and formulaic, and suffering from the same problems that inflict most factual inspirational sagas, “Big Miracle” (which could have been called “The Gray”) is quite enjoyable for what it is, a sort of “David Vs. Golliah” tale that involves mobilizing the support of a whole community and then battling rival superpowers.

The likeable Krasinski plays Adam Carlson, a newsman who, initially, can’t wait to escape the northern tip of Alaska for a bigger, more lucrative, more alluring media market.

But would not you know it–just when the story of his career breaks, something happens. When an oil tycoon, heads of state and hungry journalists descend upon the frigid and remote outpost, Adam becomes intrigued with Rachel Kramer (Barrymore), an outspoken environmentalist, who also “happens” to be his former girlfriend.

From that point on, everything is by the book, that is to say, following conventions and clichés.  The clock is ticking and time is running out.

With an eye on the youth movie market, the tale elevates the role of Nathan (Sweeney), an 11-year-old native Alaskan who learns to connect with his people and his culture.

The trio forms a slightly bizarre nut ultimately charming coalition.  As such, they must fight and overcome all kind of obstacles, both local and national, and even international.

Despite variability in approach and personality, the group must put aside their differences and rally together if their cause, freeing the whales in record time, has any chance to succeed.

Let the race begin: The Alaskans try to dig miles of holes on one side of the ice, while a Soviet icebreaker pushes inland on the other.

Justifying the title of the film, the saga depicts how the trio performs the impossible task of bridging a four-mile gap, so that the trapped whales can be

freed to the safe open seas and begin their 5,000-mile annual migration.

The whole world’s watching:  As global attention is dedicated to this spot for two weeks, saving these endangered animals becomes a shared cause for nations, entrenched against one another, threatening, in what amounts to the tale’s big fake note, of a new, unexpected Cold War.