Directed by Wil Shriner. Starring Logan Lerman, Brie Larson, Cody Linley, Jimmy Buffett, Luke Wilson, Tim Blake Nelson. (2006, PG, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Toddy Burton, Fri., May 5, 2006
Walden Media, the bringer of all things feel-good and educational (The Chronicles of Narnia, Because of Winn-Dixie), presents its newest bit of sunshine with the somewhat endearing Hoot. The story follows Roy Eberhardt (the doe-eyed Lerman), a middle-schooler relocated from his beloved Montana to the pristine beaches of Coconut Grove, Fla. As the new kid, Roy faces angry bullies and more than one critical remark about his cowboy boots. Eventually, Roy’s only-in-the-movies investigative resolve propels him to explore the identity of a mysterious boy. Soon enough, Roy befriends the mystery boy, otherwise known as Mullet Fingers, a sun-bleached teen who sleeps in a boat, sprints his way around town, and lives to protect the Florida wildlife. Meanwhile, a corporate pancake house plans construction on land that happens to be the home to some adorable burrowing owls. A bumbling police officer (Wilson) investigates the incessant pranks designed to halt construction, including crocodiles in the toilets, deflated tires, and deadly snakes. And when we finally learn (surprise!) that Mullet Fingers and his plucky stepsister (Larson) are involved, the kids get into some hijinks, eventually emerging triumphant to save the owls. Based on the Newberry Award-winning novel by Carl Hiaasen (the first young-adult novel by the Floridian journalist and author), the film strives to live up to the quirkiness of the book but falls short. While the novel is drenched in Hiassen's wit, sense of adventure, and aggressive environmentalism, the film emerges as a vanilla comedy, only slightly more interesting than most. Previously released Walden films include the excellent Holes, but Hoot lacks the complexity and humor that made Holes such a joy. However, Hoot’s efforts don’t go completely unrewarded. Lerman is endearing as the spirited lead and Wilson brings charm and humor to his witless character. The reliable Nelson essentially repeats his role from Holes but is enjoyable nonetheless. First-time producer Jimmy Buffett takes a silly turn as Roy’s marine-science teacher and contributes five new recordings to the soundtrack. And ultimately Hoot feels a bit like a Buffett song: kinda fun, but ultimately not contributing anything of significance or complexity to the world. Doubtless, the best sequences are the long, sweeping nature shots: beautiful exposés of the Florida coastline. But, for all its environmental themes, the plot doesn’t deliver any substance about its namesake: the burrowing owls. Earnest, playful and eco-friendly, Hoot is a worthwhile visit for the tween set, but parents may role their eyes more than once at this flightless film.