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'Adrift' review: Emphasis on romance gets in the way of adventure

Sam Claflin and Shailene Woodley in "Adrift."

 Sam Claflin and Shailene Woodley in "Adrift."  Credit: STXfilms/Kirsty Griffin

PLOT A young woman fights for survival on a wrecked boat in the middle of the Pacific.

CAST Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin

RATED PG-13 (intense peril, some bloody moments)


BOTTOM LINE A true story, told semi-truthfully. In the end, it’s so-so.

The survival-romance movie “Adrift,” starring Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin as lovers stranded on a boat in the Pacific, is based on Tami Oldham Ashcraft’s memoir. Do not Google it. One glance at the original title and you’ll quickly figure out the ending of this movie.

Woodley plays the book’s author, Tami, a San Diego girl from a broken home who has gotten herself as far away as Tahiti, where we first meet her. Aimless but self-sufficient, Woodley's Tami could be an ocean-borne version of Reese Witherspoon's Cheryl Strayed, the hiking heroine of “Wild." While working odd jobs to survive, Tami begins dating Richard (Claflin), a British sailor with an aura of sea-salted romance.

When Richard is hired to sail a boat to California, he invites Tami to come. For these two adventure-seekers, that 4,000-mile journey will serve as an early compatibility test. (Most of us would start with a weekend camping trip.) The journey goes wonderfully, until a hurricane blows them off-course and turns the boat into a barely-floating husk. Richard, with one leg snapped almost as badly as his mast, is rendered virtually useless. It will be up to Tami to navigate them to safety.

Director Baltasar Kormakur likes his adventure stories grand and glossy (“Everest,” “The Deep”), but “Adrift” doesn’t give him enough material even for that. Roughly half the film is devoted to flashbacks of Tami’s budding romance with Richard, which are sweet enough but break the momentum of the open-ocean sequences (which were filmed largely in Fiji and often look quite impressive). Very rarely do we get the white-knuckle feeling that comes from watching man versus nature. At least half of “Adrift” is spent just waiting — for rain water, for land, for rescue.

To juice up its story, “Adrift” resorts to a bit of narrative twisting and what feels like misinformation to wrench our emotions. The final moments of this film (written by Aaron and Jordan Kandell and David Branson Smith) will strike some as revelatory. The rest of us, though, will feel like jumping ship.

With their new movie “Adrift,” Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin join a whole crew of actors who have been lost at sea over the years. Here are four more movies about the dangers of overseas travel.

LIFEBOAT (1944). Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix and Hume Cronyn starred in this Alfred Hitchcock film written by John Steinbeck. Released near the end of World War II, the film drew substantial criticism for its human portrayal of a Nazi solider.

CAST AWAY (2000). After his plane crashes, a FedEx employee (Tom Hanks) survives four years on a remote island with only a soccer ball nicknamed Wilson for company. Hanks, alone on screen for most of this 143-minute drama, earned an Oscar nomination for his performance.

LIFE OF PI (2012). In the aftermath of a storm, a teenager named Pi (Suraj Sharma) survives on a dinghy with — of all companions — a tiger. Despite its odd premise and unconventional ending, Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel became a critical and commercial success, earning $609 million worldwide.

ALL IS LOST (2013). Robert Redford is the only actor in this enigmatic film about a man whose yacht collides with an abandoned shopping container. Redford, then in his mid-70s, became a sensation all over again, earning a standing ovation at Cannes and numerous critics’ awards. — RAFER GUZMAN

CORRECTION: Robert Redford did not earn an Oscar nomination for “All Is Lost.” A previous version of this story misstated the film's nomination.

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