|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 15 August 2006|
Carl Hiaasen has been a bestselling novelist for years, but has only recently decided to try his hand at young adult fiction. Many of Hiaasen’s adult books have environmental themes, or characters deeply tied to the environment or issues surrounding land development and the protection of endangered species, so it’s no surprise that he chose to hit those hot buttons again in the book, “Hoot.” This movie shows he found kindred spirits in Wil Shriner and Jimmy Buffett, the latter a native Floridian and songwriter. Hiaasen has recently published another young adult novel, this one also focusing on the evils of big corporations and the plight of the beleaguered environment, called “Flush.”
Now “Hoot” has been turned into a movie. One of its best features is the beauty of the landscape. Florida’s wetlands, beaches, and forests are rightfully shown as wonders. When two of the three kids featured in the film—Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman) and Mullet Fingers (Cody Linley)—take the boat out into the Everglades, the viewer is swept along through a panorama that almost defies description. I watched the movie with my eight-year-old son, and he was as taken with the exotic wilderness as I was. Many of the scenes are breathtaking, and the sunsets in a few of those scenes are explosions of color that will remain with the viewer for a long time. Crocodiles, egrets, cranes, and—of course—the burrowing owls the kids are trying to save from Mother Paula’s Pancake House, all take center stage at one time or another.
Although the story is told from Roy’s first-person narrative throughout most of the movie, there are times when it’s conspicuously absent. The voice-overs really serve as a director’s shorthand for advancing the plot and backgrounding the character, and only resurfaces sporadically. It was a small annoyance.
The story begins in Montana, with Roy narrating what his life has been like. His father works for the Department of Justice (which we learn later) and the family has to move around a lot as a result. We see Roy shown riding his horse n the mountain country, then the story shifts suddenly to a Florida school bus where he’s crammed in like a sardine and definitely not feeling at home. A bully, Dana Matheson (Eric Phillips), pounces on Roy and grinds his face into the bus window. While being held there, Roy spots a blond, barefooted boy racing down the sidewalk, actually outrunning the bus for a time. Another turn or two, and the boy disappears.
The movie shifts to Officer David Delinko (Luke Wilson) and Curley Brannitt (Tim Blake Nelson) as they sort through the vandalism that’s been done to the Mother Paula’s Pancake House development site, where Curley is living as a caretaker and worker. Luke Wilson, normally at his best in the laidback, not-quite-knowing-what’s-going-on role, seems almost lost in this one. He meanders through the scenes and hits his marks, but never develops beyond that. The vandals are deliberately delaying construction on the pancake house. When Officer Delinko pokes his head in the potty, he discovers a baby alligator. Tim Blake Nelson’s character is slap-your-knee funny.
At school, Roy shows up late for Mr. Ryan’s (Jimmy Buffett) class in marine studies. He meets Garrett and they become instant friends. Both lament about changing schools and being the dreaded “new kid”. Roy questions Garrett about the barefoot boy but he has no idea who it is.
By Day Two, things spin irrevocably out of control. Dana assaults Roy, but this time Roy breaks Dana’s nose. Rushing out the bus door, Roy bumps into Beatrice Leep (Brie Larson), who takes an instant dislike to him. Pursuing Mullet Fingers, Roy almost runs the mysterious boy to ground but finally loses him. Before Roy can get clear of the golf course, he gets hit between the eyes with a golf ball and knocked out.
The story proceeds from there, moving into the real issue: Mullet Fingers knows there are burrowing owls on the construction site and is doing everything he can to protect them. He’s Beatrice’s step-brother, but he’s also a runaway from military school. Beatrice is helping him hide out and trying to get him to stop vandalizing the construction site. Mullet Fingers won’t give it up, though, and soon Roy and Beatrice are involved in helping him do everything he can.
The stakes rise on each side of the board. Ruthless pancake house developer Chuck Muckle (Clark Gregg) is in a rush to break ground on his 100th restaurant and will do anything to make that happen. In fact, he already has by hiding the existence of the burrowing owls. Officer Delinko has no luck at all, and—after his windows are spray-painted black while he was asleep on sentry duty—gets the keys to a ridiculous-looking police cart. Curley hires a man with dogs to guard the site at night and Mullet Fingers gets bitten, leading to Roy lying to get him admitted to the hospital for treatment.
The special features collected on the disc add a lot of value to the package. Parrotheads (Jimmy Buffett fans) will be rewarded doubly, first by the musician’s genial performance, and by his enthusiasm for the part and what he did to get the movie made. The interviews with Buffett, Shriner, and Hiaasen reflect almost the same interests and concerns. Even more of the Florida background gets revealed in those shots.
The bloopers reel shows the true magic and chemistry between the young stars. The backyard animal sanctuary bit will encourage a lot of youngsters and adults to undertake projects.
With a Jimmy Buffett musical score, the movie offers a treat to the ears, but the sounds carry through the surround sound system really well. The crash of the surf, the outboard motor, the angry, impatient snarl of the bulldozer all fill the room. Visually, with the Florida coastline and jungles to work with, as well as the wildlife, the DVD shows vibrant colors and images that often get lost in a purely action-driven tale.
“Hoot” is a delight to watch, the perfect family movie that’s accessible to kids as well as adults. It’s a feel-good movie with a predictable ending, but the enjoyment comes out of the trip to get there.