Hoot certainly means well. Based on Carl Hiassen's acclaimed 2002 novel for young readers, the motion picture aims to inspire children to nurture an environmental consciousness. Alas, good intentions do not always translate into good movies. Relentlessly bland and clumsy, this film makes it difficult to (dear lord, forgive the pun) give much of a hoot about it.
The wisp of a story begins when Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman) and his parents move from Montana to fictitious Coconut Cove, Florida. Life isn't easy for the new kid, whose Western garb quickly earns him the nickname "Cowgirl" from the local kids. Worse, he is singled out to be terrorized on the school bus by the resident bully (Eric Phillips).
Roy grows eager to become friends with a mysterious blonde boy he spies running barefoot down the street. The kid, a sort of modern-day Huckleberry Finn who goes by the sobriquet Mullet Fingers (Cody Linley), is in league with his tough-as-nails stepsister, Beatrice (Brie Larson), to protect a habitat of burrowing owls.
The birds, you see, are being threatened by the planned construction of a Mother Paulas Pancake House. As the movie's adults are alternately clueless and idiotic, Mullet Fingers and Beatrice have resorted to eco-terrorism, unleashing all sorts of nasty mischief -- from a bag full of snakes to alligators strategically placed in Porta Potties -- on the site, causing plenty of headaches for the construction supervisor (a scenery-chewing Tim Blake Nelson) and a bumbling cop (a slumming Luke Wilson). Naturally, Roy teams up with Mullet Fingers and Beatrice to save the owls and keep Coconut Cove from being sullied by the likes of hotcakes.
This is all harmless enough, but Hoot is laidback to the point of catatonia. It feels like an accidental homage to those God-awful ABC after-school specials of the 1970s. Director-writer Will Shriner lacks much of a storytelling bite here, essentially giving us three nondescript teens who vandalize a construction site, all for the sake of baby owls. It's a commendable goal, sure. Even so, there is almost no emotional investment in their mission, leaving audiences unable to muster up more than a scintilla of excitement, even for an ending so contrived, it would've been deemed too corny for an Andy Hardy flick.
As one would expect with a new movie, the picture, presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, is excellent quality. Skin tones are realistic, blacks are black and there is no noise or other noticeable defects. Michael Chapman's cinematography, which is the best thing in Hoot, effectively showcases the beauty of Florida.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound is really superior, making good use of immersive audio (if only the movie had been as dramatic as the accompanying audio track). Nevertheless, there are a few instances in which dialogue is slightly difficult to hear. On the positive side, the calypso-infused soundtrack by Jimmy Buffett, who co-produced the flick and has a small acting credit, comes through loud and clear.
A Dolby Digital 2.0 track is also available. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish.
Mediocrity hasn't kept the DVD producers from including a heap o' extras. Most are instantly forgettable.
Teachers, however, might find a few of the bonuses to be of value. Several featurettes are geared toward increasing ecological awareness among young people. The four-minute, 45-second Hoot's Hands-On Habitat Projects looks at Wild at Heart, a nonprofit organization involved in the protection of birds. The seven-minute Backyard Habitat has officials of the National Wildlife Federation offering their thoughts on people can create creature-friendly environments in the backyard. Visit an Animal Rescue Center is a rather self-explanatory piece, an eight-minute, 15-second tour of a rehabilitation center for birds of prey.
The DVD includes six deleted scenes with optional commentary by Shriner and Hiassen. Hoot isn't missing out by the exclusion of these scenes.
On the subject of commentary, however, the full-length commentary by Shriner and Hiassen is actually fun and informative, particularly with Hiassen's insights on literature making the transition to the big screen. The interaction between the two is lively and friendly. In short, the commentary is better than the film itself.
Several video shorts focus on various aspects of the movie shoot. Meet the Kids in the Cast is a nine-minute, 20-second piece that profiles the principal kid stars: Lerman, Linley, Larson and Phillips. Snippets of their audition tapes are the main attraction. Meet the Creator of Hoot is a frothy five-minute, 45-second overview of Hiassen, Shriner, Buffett and film producer Frank Marshall. Jimmy Buffett: Filmmaker in Paradise is an eight-minute, 40-second wrap of how the Son of a Son of a Sailor became interested in buying the film rights to Hiassen's novel. Mercifully shorter is the four-minute piece on Will Shriner, Director on the Set.
More interesting is Animals in Action, a six-minute, 45-second glimpse at how animal trainers helped get the owls, snakes, alligators and dogs of Hoot to deliver such convincing performances.
Other supplemental materials include: a three-minute, 10-second blooper reel, a theatrical trailer and previews for How to Eat Fried Worms, The Ant Bully and IMAX Deep Sea 3-D. There are also advertisements for the Save the Manatees Club and a tourism spot for the state of Florida.
Hoot is far from offensively incompetent, but its chief attribute -- its pro-environmental slant – isn't enough to recommend it.