Dir: Wil Shriner. US. 2006. 88mins.
Parents craving wholesome children's entertainmentthat promotes environmental conservation might find Hoot acceptable summer fare for the little ones. But this blandfamily film, which is released in the US on May 5, never generates muchinterest in either its human or animal participants.
Strategicallypositioned between the mid-April release date of Disney's The Wild and mid-May release of Dreamworks'Over The Hedge, this PG film, adaptedfrom Carl Hiaasen's Newbury Honor-winning novel, would love receipts in theregion of 2003's Holes (whose sourcematerial was also a well-regarded kids book), which collected $67mdomestically.
Hoot will certainly benefit from child audiences, but with heavier-promotedcompetition boasting cutting-edge animation and bigger stars it may have tosettle for theatrical spillover and the subsequent DVD market. Overseas performance will depend on familiaritywith the Hiaasen book since the little-known cast and lack of special effectswill hinder this live-action offering in foreign markets.
Sweet, sensitiveRoy (Lerman) has just moved with his family fromMontana to Florida. Homesick, he faces the awkwardness of being the new kid athis middle school, where he runs afoul of intimidating tomboy Beatrice (Larson)and a mysterious teen runaway (Linley) who is tryingto stop developers from clearing a wooded area that houses endangered owls. United in their concern for the creatures, Roy, Beatrice and therunaway form a friendship while thwarting the developers' plans.
Aftera career directing sitcoms (Frasier, Everybody Loves Raymond), Wil Shriner's screen debut aswriter-director exudes a genial tone, eschewing the bodily functions andobnoxious pratfalls that form the comic spine of so many kids films. But in its place, Shrineroffers only innocuous characters meandering through a lackadaisical story heavyon cuteness.
While it's rarefor a studio film to address environmental issues, Hoot introduces the owls' predicament so late into the movie thatit has little emotional impact. Shriner insteadspends too much time on tedious subplots: Roy's struggles at his new school;the policeman's bumbling investigation to determine who is vandalisingthe developers' equipment; and the identity of the runaway and his connectionto Beatrice.
In an era whenmany family films are coarse, loud and stupid for fear that they must beconstantly moving so as not to lose kids' interest, Hoot offers a measure of relief in that it's sweet-natured and hasa positive message. But its lethal pleasantness pushes toward the other extremeand ensures it is so laidback as to have ino pulse.
In his first leadrole since impressing as the nerdy, nuanced Bobby on television's short-lived Jack & Bobby, Logan Lerman does not give Roy much spark, failing to make thissoft-spoken loner sympathetic - odd since the two characters have many of thesame outward traits.
To be fair,though, none of the adolescent actors distinguish themselves. Brie Larson'scharacter is meant to evolve from young tomboy to young lady, but thismetamorphosis is mostly supplied by the costume department, which resorts tothe old trick of giving her unflattering glasses at the beginning and thenremoving them when she's supposed to be pretty.
As for Cody Linley, he appears to have been selected to play the film'soutsider-rebel simply because he had the appropriate floppy blond hair requiredof all teenaged heartthrobs.
The adults fareslightly better. As a dimwitted but well-meaning policeman, LukeWilson draws chuckles, butalmost everyone else plays his or her part too broadly in the hope ofunearthing the humour amid the flat scenes
The Kennedy/Marshall Company
New Line Cinema
Wil Shriner, fromthe book by Carl Hiaasen
Alan Edward Bell
Tim Blake Nelson