If Belle Isle holds any magic for washed-up Western novelist Monte Wildhorn (Morgan Freeman), it's in the town liquor shop. Or so it seems when his nephew drops him off in the sleepy coastal town to dog-sit for the summer. And that suits Wildhorn, confined to a wheelchair, just fine: His only aspiration is to be left alone with his first love (40 proof) and the ghosts of his past.
But Finn (Emma Fuhrman), a budding 9-year-old storyteller from next door, has other plans. With $34.18, presumably her entire life savings, she prompts Wildhorn-strapped for cash by his drinking-to teach her about imagination, "the most powerful force ever made available to humankind." And despite his rough edges, Wildhorn soon finds himself drawn to her family, especially Mrs. O'Neil, Finn's recently divorced mother.
For director Rob Reiner, the "powerful force" of imagination once displayed in his classics like When Harry Met Sally and The Princess Bride has been noticeably absent of late. Which may explain why this PG film is only on the big screen in a handful of cities. Unfortunately, despite Wildhorn's sparkling connection to Finn and a number of honest laughs, Reiner doesn't manage a renaissance here.
With a desperate lack of drama and no legitimate obstacle to keep Wildhorn and O'Neil apart, the story has no motion pushing them or the viewer forward. Case in point: In a dream sequence where anything could have happened-murder, mayhem, a runaway horse-O'Neil and Wildhorn only talk and slow-dance in the still night air.
All this, combined with immature and inappropriate humor, leaves a lot to be desired. As Wildhorn says, "Most times, real life doesn't measure up to what's in our heads." Considering the talented people involved, this movie is similarly disappointing.