Big Miracle (PG)

Starring: Kristen Bell, Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Ted Danson

Drew Barrymore saves the whale in another truth-based drama: it's enough to make you long for the days when they just made things up.

This rescue adventure whisks us back to 1988 and the last days of Reagan, when three California grey whales were trapped in thickening ice off the coast of Alaska. A nice-guy TV reporter (John Krasinski) first spots the trouble, then his ex-girlfriend, a Greenpeace activist (Barrymore), takes up cudgels on behalf of the beleaguered creatures. Soon TV networks turn the story national, and everybody's pitching in to help – a cynical oilman (Ted Danson) buffing his company's image, a National Guards Colonel (Dermot Mulroney) with a helicopter, a band of whale-hunting tribesmen and two blokes from Minneapolis with a homemade de-icing machine. There's even a late helping hand from a Soviet icebreaker after the President gets personally involved ("Gorby, it's Ronnie").

The film, a family entertainment by the man who directed The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, delivers slightly more than its minuscule promise. The cast is decent, and its celebration of American can-do stays just the right side of sanctimonious. What I'd like to know is: would they have launched a rescue mission if they'd been killer whales?