Hoot

| May 12, 2006

Starring Luke Wilson and Logan Lerman (from television’s short-lived Jack & Bobby) as Roy Eberhardt, Hoot follows Roy’s struggle to fit in after moving to Florida. Attacked by a bully and threatened by a tough girl, Roy distracts himself by trying to discover the mystery behind a barefoot young man that runs by Roy’s bus each morning. This mysterious young man (Cody Linley) introduces Roy to the world of nature and unintentionally draws Roy into his personal quest to stop the construction of a pancake house that threatens a nest of baby owls.
Hoot is a reasonably entertaining film that challenges children to think about the world beyond themselves. It is difficult to criticize a film that so earnestly (if naively) encourages a love of nature. Fully embracing the overly sentimental possibilities, director Wil Shriner (who has worked mostly in television) and cinematographer Michael Chapman capture picturesque footage of sunsets, waterways, wooded areas, and numerous animals including fish, turtles, birds, and even snakes. Sure, these moments can be cheesy, but the sincere intention to remind the audience that the beauty of nature is fleeting has power.
The bad guy here (played by Clark Gregg) is a corporate type attempting to open his 100th regional pancake house–whatever the cost, he’s ready for glory. Part of the humor in the film derives from this sort of irony: the greatest goal of this man’s life is fame as a regional manager of Mother Paula’s Pancake House. The mayor celebrates that the new pancake house will provide a total of twelve new jobs for locals. And as Roy comments repeatedly, who doesn’t love pancakes? Is there a nobler goal than the construction of a new pancake house?
Despite my cynicism, I hoped for more from this film. Luke Wilson plays befuddled but dedicated police officer Delinko with charm and sweetness, but he cannot overcome the stupidity of the situations in which he is placed. Clichéd dialogue, poor character development, and slow pacing detract from the efforts of the actors. Resorting to stock characters, the movie includes parents that are well-intentioned but clueless, a bully that is psychotic, and a teacher (played by Jimmy Buffett) that barely talks with Roy yet somehow feels a bond with him. The finale is laughable (not in a good way) in how it resorts to complete camp in its depiction of the villain and douses the audience in an unrealistic and saccharine resolution.
Director Shriner adapted the screenplay from an award-winning book and likely worked too hard to include every character and plot point from the original when he should have opted for focus at the cost of color. Still, the movie’s positive message bears repeating, and children will likely be less annoyed by the stereotypes that inundate the film.

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