May 11, 2006

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Hoot (PG)
A boy learns to stand up to bullies, save the environment and make new friends in Hoot, a gee-shucks sweet film sure to join Holes and Because of Winn-Dixie on the rotation of films to show the day before summer vacation in the older grades of elementary schools.

Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman) has grown up on the move. His dad's (Neil Flynn) justice department job has kept the family moving practically once a school year, meaning Roy is always the new kid. Somewhere in the middle school years, Roy gives up a beloved home in Montana -- all open ranges and horseback riding -- for a new home on the Florida coast. Even before he gets to school, his mild manner and cowboy shirts get him picked on by a bully on the bus. Roy does find a few positive things about his new locale -- he spots a kid about his age who, though barefoot, is able to outrun the bus and, while riding his bike near a construction site (the future home of Mother Paula's pancake house) Roy spots a cute owl living in a ground burrow, one of many in the area. Both intrigue him and, after a bit of digging, he finds out that the kid, known only as Mullet Fingers (Cody Linley), is committing assorted acts of low-level vandalism aimed at preventing construction on the site and protecting the owls. Mullet Fingers, as it turns out, is something of an anti-development environmentalist as well as a truant, having run away from his military school and his mom. He's assisted in his quests (the quest of saving the owls and the quest of surviving on his own) by his stepsister, Beatrice (Brie Larson).

Roy is something of a nature-fan himself and, as new kid, he seems pleased to take his friends where he can get them. So he joins in with the owl-saving hijinks, much to the dismay of his you-used-to-be-such-a-well-behaved-boy lamenting parents.

This kind of activist environmentalism might normally be the object of scorn but it helps that it is being perpetrated by some cutely precocious kids and that the developer's side is represented by a duo of incompetent and corrupt adults. These are site manager Curly (Tim Blake Nelson) and Mother Paula's regional corporate head Muckle (Clark Gregg). Curly is constantly being outfoxed by Mullet Fingers but is reluctant to follow Muckle's orders to just bulldoze the owl burrows.

Bridging the gap between the white-hat kids and the black-hat Mother Paula's crew is Officer Delinko (Luke Wilson), a somewhat bumbling cop who refuses to believe that the vandalism is just teen pranks but has a purpose.

And then, for no apparent reason, Jimmy Buffett dusts the sand off his flip-flops long enough to mellow his way through a few scenes as the marine biology teacher.

Hoot has, at its heart, a rather political message -- that we, as a country, might have enough condos and chain restaurants and should now focus more of our attention on keeping our flora and fauna healthy and away from extinction. But this development-boo outlook is wrapped up in a lot of other messages that are more typical kid-movie fare: doing what's right, standing up to bullies, etc.

Unlike Holes, it doesn't have the kind of humor-filled magical story or well-developed fanciful characters that make it entertainment for adult as well as kid members of the family. (There's plenty of silly pranks and some mild slapstick, but the script and the characters are overall fairly forgettable.) And there are elements of the production that have a very TV, afterschool-special feel. The result is a movie that is pretty solidly built for the 9- to 12-year-olds who will likely have most occasion to see it. C+


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