This SHOULD be a real hoot: A film based on a Carl Hiaasen novel, produced by Jimmy Buffett and featuring songs by him, with both Florida boys appearing in small roles.
Unfortunately, the environmentally conscious family film “Hoot” is more of a twitter, kids taking on corporate callousness in what’s meant to be a lighthearted tale but turns out lightweight and bland.
“Hoot” carries a positive message of social responsibility, yet its three teen heroes and their quest to save endangered owls just aren’t interesting enough to rally behind for an hour and a half.
Among the adult cast, Luke Wilson and Tim Blake Nelson add some comic flair, though not enough to carry the movie.
Director Wil Shriner, who also wrote the screenplay from Hiaasen’s book, makes his big-screen debut after directing episodes of such sitcoms as “Frasier” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
Actor and comedian Shriner ends up generally stuck in small-screen mode as “Hoot” plays out with the modest pace, tone and production values of a cable-TV movie. “Hoot” just feels too thin for the theater.
Logan Lerman of TV’s “Jack & Bobby” stars as 14-year-old Roy Eberhardt, one of those kids who’s constantly changing schools as his parents move from place to place. The movie begins with Roy lamenting his latest move from Montana to southern Florida, where he’s the friendless new kid who runs afoul of the tough chick at school, Beatrice Leep (Brie Larson), and a beefy bully (Eric Phillips).
Gradually, Roy earns Beatrice’s respect and friendship and falls in with her stepbrother (Cody Linley), a barefoot eco-rebel known as “Mullet Fingers” who’s waging a guerrilla vandalism campaign to stop a pancake chain from building a restaurant on an owl habitat.
Nelson’s the hapless construction-site manager, Clark Gregg plays the heartless executive who’ll stop at nothing to get his pancake emporium built, and Wilson’s an eager but boneheaded cop trying to sort out who’s responsible for the vandalism and why.
The movie tries to build some little mysteries where none really exist, and Hiaasen’s dialogue is lacking. The teen actors are earnest, but their performances are rather stiff and shallow, adding to the TV-movie tone. Gregg’s a one-dimensional villain, though Wilson’s a mildly endearing klutz and Nelson’s good-old boy oafishness enlivens the movie.
Robert Wagner pops in for a bit part at the end as the town’s mayor and delivers the movie’s funniest line, though it’s still not that funny.
Buffett turns up in a small role as Roy’s science teacher, and Hiaasen appears briefly as Muckle’s assistant.
There’s also an “original songs by” plug for Buffett in the credits, though he wrote nothing new himself for the movie. The five tunes he croons include nice covers of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and Bruce Cockburn’s “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” a duet with Alan Jackson and a new version of Buffett’s “Floridays.”
In a world where moronic family comedies such as “RV,” “The Shaggy Dog” and “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” find solid audiences, the well-meaning “Hoot” deserves at least the same. The movie may not be much of a hoot, but it still has more smarts, heart and conscience than those dumb family flicks put together.