Reviewed By Doug Bentin
Posted 06/20/06 03:15:00

"It’s not too bad, but could have been better."
3 stars (Average)

“Hoot” is a pleasant enough little movie with an ecological message, and it’s easy to watch, but it goes down a little like those over-the-counter liquid medicines that are sweetened. They’re easier for kids to swallow but not so tasty they want to chug-a-lug the stuff, and they’re way too cloying for adults.

High school student Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman) has moved with his parents to the Florida Gulf Coast. This is his eighth school in six years. He begins making friends with a kid who isn’t in the movie to do anything but give us some back story as he gives it to Roy. Then the school bully begins doing his thing to Roy on the bus and Roy snaps one day and punches the bully, breaking his nose.

So far it all plays like your standard oh-God-don’t-make-me-sit-through-another-one-of-these-boring-life-in-school-movies. Then Roy meets Beatrice the Bear (Brie Larson), a demon for soccer who knows a secret about a boy Roy has seen running barefoot around town. After Beatrice can’t dissuade him from asking around about the barefooter, Roy is allowed to meet the kid. He’s Beatrice’s brother, escaped from a boy’s ranch and living in an old cruiser in the boat yard.

Now here’s the discombobulating factor about all this stuff—it doesn’t have much to do with the central story line. That’s about a large corporation that wants to build a pancake restaurant, bring “12 new jobs to Coconut Cove,” as the mayor (Robert Wagner in a so-what cameo) proudly boasts. The flapjack emporium is to be built right on the nesting ground of a bunch of burrowing owls, which are protected by law. No one but Curly Branitt, the construction site manager (Tim Blake Nelson) and his boss, that greedy corporate bastard Mr. Muckle (Clark Gregg) seems to have noticed this.

So the barefoot kid, Mullet Fingers (Cody Linley) has been messing up the site at night to forestall construction. A numbnuts local cop (Luke Wilson) is called in to find out who’s screwing up the start date for the house of pancakes’ construction.

First time feature film director Wil Shriner adapted his screenplay from a kids’ novel by Carl Hiaasen, who makes it clear in everything he writes for adults that he hates the commercialization of Florida, and if Walt Disney and Universal Studios would like to just go to hell, he wouldn’t object. It’s ironic that this movie makes the Florida west coast look like a great place to vacation. Hey, we better put up some more hotels to accommodate all those chilly northerners.

I like the three lead kids, who all look and act like high schoolers who haven’t yet been corrupted by cheap music and smarmy TV sitcoms. The adults, especially Wilson, Nelson and Gregg, overact their parts as badly as adults frequently do when they make movies for youngsters. Jimmy Buffet, who adds some Buffety songs, also plays Roy’s favorite teacher.

I like the film’s message—don’t kill the little guys—but I could have done without the bland rice pudding effect of the life-in-high-school clichés. Your outdoorsy kids will have fun with it. It just made me want to sit under an umbrella on the beach with a Corona and a Carl Hiassen crime novel.

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