Hoot (2006)

8 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Hoot” is the film adaptation of the Newbery Award winning novel of the same name, written by Carl Hiaasen, and it’s surprisingly faithful to its source material in terms of story and character. You would think that the movie would be just as good as the book in that sense, but I have two problems with that sense. For one thing, there’s just such a mediocrity to the execution of the movie that doesn’t make it seem very special. Also, and I know I might get a lot of flack for typing this, I don’t personally think that the novel itself is special to begin with. I’ll get to analyzing those problems the best I can later in this review, but let me explain the plot first.

A young man named Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman) and his family have moved again, this time from Montana to Florida. He already has problems with a husky bully, who has enjoyment in pressing the kid’s face against the school-bus window, but he finds interest in two kids his age. One is a soccer jock named Beatrice (Brie Larson), who is dubbed “Bear,” and a barefoot runaway nicknamed “Mullet Fingers” (Cody Linley) who is also Beatrice’s stepbrother and is constantly vandalizing a construction site, where a pancake-house corporation wants to build their newest restaurant in this small town. Roy decides to help him, along with Beatrice, because the construction site is filled with endangered burrowing owls and it’s up to the kids to save them.

I’m not quite sure where to begin. I mean, the premise is nice and the friendships between Roy and Beatrice and with Roy and Mullet Fingers are developed in an interesting way, both in the novel and film. But there are many quibbles I have with this story. First of all, the construction site is in the middle of the forest—why would anyone want to build a pancake house there? And who would want to go to a pancake house in that particular location?

Also, this family film is promoting a somewhat-environmental message. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to teach a lesson to kids if it’s done right, but the kids in this movie aren’t exactly the right role models for saving the environment. They commit felonies in order to save the day. They steal, vandalize (for example, they spray-paint a police car’s windows black), and even terrorize (with cottonmouth snakes and alligators that Mullet Fingers is able to handle—by the way, Mullet Fingers has been living on his own in the woods long enough, so how far does his animal-handling skills go?). On top of that, they’re not entirely convincing. I seem to be circling back to that Mullet Fingers kid—by the way, he’s called that because he can catch a mullet (a type of fish) with his bare hands. I would like to know exactly how Mullet Fingers survives on his own for what is said to be so long. And if he doesn’t want to be seen, then why does he constantly run on a public sidewalk where plenty of people are able to see him?

Oh yeah, and why is Roy the only one on the school bus who notices Mullet Fingers running by it? Is it because that ridiculous bully isn’t holding anyone else’s face against the window?

Here’s another problem with the story—there are too many side characters for unnecessary subplots. That beefy bully I mentioned is particularly boring and—get this—is afraid of one thing that fortunately Roy (or “Cowgirl” or “Tex” or “Eberhardt” as he’s constantly called every now and again) has on his side: Beatrice. Huh—or maybe he just doesn’t want to hit girls. (Yeah, that sounds about right.) But Roy breaks the bully’s nose after being held in a headlock, only to create an unnecessary subplot that distracts from Roy fitting into his new town and helping his new friends save the owls. Another side character, played by Luke Wilson whom gets top billing in this movie, is police officer David Delinko, a young and loyal cop who is called upon the site to investigate the vandalism reported by the foreman named “Curly” (Tim Blake Nelson). His main role is to be gullible and humiliated while Roy hides his secrets from him, even after he makes friends with him. He’s also the one whose patrol car is spray-painted black by Mullet Fingers while on a stakeout. Why not make this character smarter, or maybe a little funnier to make him more interesting? And then, we have the villain who is just a comic caricature. Chuck Muckle (Clark Gregg), the vice president of the pancake house corporation, knows there are owls and doesn’t care for any of Mullet Fingers’ antics to bulldoze the site. He’s over-the-top here. And of course, we have the dumb parents who know less than their children and their supposed heart-to-heart talks with Roy are pathetic.

What I’m basically getting at is “Hoot” is overstuffed. And Wil Shriner who thinks of this as a feature-length after-school special also executes it poorly with what-probably-isn’t-but-just-seems-like-it lazy direction. And the constant use of bland songs by Jimmy Buffett doesn’t help much either. And the climax has to be one of the most overly cutesy scenes in a recent family film. But to be fair, I believe “Hoot” is harmless enough for younger kids. The kids are actually kind of likeable and the owls are cute enough to be worth fighting for. But if you want a better family film that delivers subtle and more entertaining ways to bring messages across, this isn’t it.

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