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Whale of a tale is fishy in 'Big Miracle'

Small-town news reporter Adam Carlson (John Krasinski)and animal-loving

Small-town news reporter Adam Carlson (John Krasinski)and animal-loving volunteer Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore) greet one of the trapped California gray whales in the rescue adventure "Big Miracle", directed by Ken Kwapis, inspired by the incredible true story that touched the world. In theaters on February 3, 2012. Credit: Darren Michaels/Universal Pictures/

Greenpeace and Big Oil, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski -- everyone comes together for one big group hug to save the whales in "Big Miracle," a tear-jerking, cockle-warming, ecology-themed romance. It's a true story, though you'd never guess that it's based on a 1989 book, "Freeing the Whales," with this cynical subtitle: "How the Media Created the World's Greatest Non-Event."

Let's forget that little germ of truth, shall we? In this telling, television freelancer Thomas Rose, who wrote the book after covering the elaborate 1988 rescue of three California gray whales stranded near Barrow, Alaska, is replaced by a cuddly Krasinki as Adam Carlson, a gosh-aroonie type who specializes in irony-free reportage ("Amigo's, the northernmost Mexican restaurant in the world!"). Adam can always be trusted to throw down his camera and join a good cause, especially when his ex-girlfriend, Greenpeace staffer Rachel Kramer (Barrymore), shows up.

They belong together: Who else could put up with Rachel's weepy speeches about endangered species and water purity? Barrymore's agonized, nearly wrist-slitting performance is an environmentalist caricature, but every actor is in the same boat: Dermot Mulroney plays a flinty National Guardsman, Ted Danson is a swaggering oil mogul and Ahmaogak Sweeney is the modern Alaskan tweenager who learns to appreciate the old ways.

There are residual traces of realism, as when reporters descend on Barrow to bite chunks off the story, and Cold War politicians, including a Reagan sound-alike, begin smelling possibilities for good PR. But director Ken Kwapis ("He's Just Not That Into You") insists on false warmth at every turn, even forgetting that in 50-below weather you ought to see a breath cloud or two. "Big Miracle" might be subtitled, "How Hollywood Turned a Real Story Into Bogus Fiction."

PLOT Based on the true story of three whales rescued with U.S.-Soviet cooperation in 1988 RATING PG (mild language)

CAST John Krasinski, Drew Barrymore, Dermot Mulroney


PLAYING AT Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE A bogus version of a real event, packed with tears and smiles but lacking a single convincing moment

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