There are worse ways to spend a hot summer's evening than sitting in a cool theatre watching playful dolphins leap out of a sparkling blue-green sea. But, Flipper's story is a tired fish tale. The semi-wayward, urban son of divorcing parents arrives on a remote Florida key, marooned for the summer with a salty old sailor/uncle whose $100-per-week job is to whip his nephew's spoiled, self-absorbed butt into shape. On his first sea outing, Sandy is charmed by a school of magical dolphins cavorting in the surf. But when he witnesses the killing of a dolphin by the boorish, barbarous, bottom-feeding bad guy, Dirk Moran (Banks), the spell is broken and all Sandy can think about is escaping his prison paradise. Sandy makes for the morning ferry and freedom and as he waits on the dock, his Gameboy blips and bleeps draws the attention of the dolphin who was orphaned by Dirk's rifle. He's intrigued, but the ferry's siren call is still more alluring. Uncle Porter goes after him, of course, and there quickly ensues a hurricane, a much closer encounter with the dolphin, the beginning of a sweet summer romance, and the solution of a toxic waste pollution mystery. (Just guess who leads them to the underwater dumpsite and then guess who the culprit dumper is.) There are several morality lessons in Flipper
and they hit you like the thwack of a dolphin's tail. There's also a lot of nonsense, mostly, but not only, involving tons of high-tech marine research equipment, a dolphin who, like his four-legged counterpart, Lassie, understands commands like “Go find it, boy!” and more complicated tasks like, what to do with “it” once found. The movie's relieved only by the occasional funny line, beautiful scenery and good casting. Fortunately, the sullen, Gameboy-addicted teen is played by Elijah Wood (The Adventures of Huck Finn, Avalon),
who has an intriguing, emotive face and more acting talent in his little finger than Paul Hogan has in his lean, weather-beaten body (though Hogan actually has pretty good comedic timing and is not bad as the eccentric master of the unbeaten path -- god knows, he's had enough practice). This time though, I guess you'd have to call Hogan Alligator Dundee. Or Dolphin Dundee. Or… well, you get the picture.