Hoot (2006) / Comedy-Family

MPAA Rated: PG for brief language
Running Time: 90 min.

Cast: Logan Lerman, Luke Wilson, Tim Blake Nelson, Cody Linley, Brie Larson, Clark Gregg, Jimmy Buffett, Robert Wagner, Kiersten Warren, Neil Flynn
Director: Wil Shriner
Screenplay: Wil Shriner (based on the book by Carl Hiaasen)
Review published May 11, 2006

Hoot is a throwback movie to the type of kids entertainment that I used to watch in my formative years, with a brand of humor and blithe sense of importance that one could find regularly on television known as the "After School Special".  As well-meaning and innocuous as these movies were, they also were a whole lot of hokey, with contrived life lessons where the youths were the ones trying to affect a change in themselves, or the world, in a society where the parents just don't understand,  These films were rarely good, but even as kids, we understood that made-for-TV fodder was usually considered to be a lesser form of entertainment. With only twelve channels to choose from, it was acceptable fare when nothing else was on for our demographic.  Hoot isn't really trying to recapture a sense of nostalgia for these sorts of vacuous, sometimes-preachy little films, but it does appear to be made by people that haven't really matured past that era in terms of what they think of when they conceive of movies aimed at young adults. 

Based on the book by Carl Hiaasen, Hoot is about a Montana boy (Lerman, The Butterfly Effect) that ends up moving yet again with his oft-relocating family to Coconut Grove, Florida, where he quickly gets into trouble after a flap with the school bully.  Not soon after, he befriends the barefoot environmental idealist tagged with the nickname of Mullet Fingers (Linley, My Dog Skip), from whom he learns that a chain of pancake houses is about to set up shop in town, on the verge of bulldozing over the homes of some cutesy owls that live in little holes in the ground beneath where the company has devised building plans.  Trying to keep the peace is Officer Delinko (Luke Wilson, Legally Blonde 2), a likeable but very daft law enforcement officer trying to do the best to do what's right for the community at large.

Hoot follows the same path as another recently successful family film, Holes, in its themes and main thrust in terms of how it plays to its target audience.  However, the original material from which it draws its story is not nearly as interesting, with less whimsy, interesting characters, or a sense of style.  Adapted and directed by comedian-turned-sitcom director Wil Shriner, the film is refreshingly devoid of pretense or flash, although by the same token, it does suffer from being pat, predictable, and bland overall.  It's not that we expect great things, but after seeing other recent films based on books aimed at young adults, like Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a film like Hoot is the sort of movie that feels like it has no real business being up there along with them on the big screen, as if what was meant to be a Disney Channel Original Movie somehow ended up getting the push for a major motion picture release.

Hoot is co-produced by easy listening rock/country star Jimmy Buffett, who also provides some new original songs to the soundtrack, in addition to casting himself in the role of the kindly biology teacher.  I suppose if you enjoy his music, you may get some additional movie mileage out of seeing him on the big screen, and listening to his tunes.  Buffett may not know much about how to make movies, but he does know his audience quite well, as Hoot is a great deal like his music -- pleasant, easy-going, and worry-free entertainment, enjoyable precisely because it is free of turbulence, heavy drama, or provocative thought.  Critics generally find his stuff uninteresting, but for what it is, it's too sincere and friendly in its nature to truly hate.  I think this last statement sums up the experience of the movie he's produced in a nutshell.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo