In Hoot, three likable, sun-kissed Florida teenagers — who don’t swear, take drugs, have sex or drive gasoline-powered automobiles — become budding eco-terrorists in order to save fluffy little owls who live in burrows in the ground. These creatures aren’t endangered as a species, but the individual birds sure will be endangered by plans to bulldoze their habitat and put up a Mother Paula’s Pancake House.
Real-life concerned adults would have stopped the construction quickly by getting the easy-to-find environmental-impact report and filing a complaint. But the heroes in this movie are teenagers, so they act first, think later. They perform petty harassment on the construction site, then tie up the nasty owner of the pancake empire. They never get punished for acts of vandalism that could have hurt someone or sent older scofflaws to jail. Because of that lapse, some critics of the film have accused it of being soft-core eco-terrorism. What they fail to recognize is that Hoot is a comedy, and thus it’s supposed to be outrageous. But as teenagers have learned many times, I’m sure, what some adults find funny for themselves, they deem inappropriate for their kids.
Hoot is based on a young-adult novel by Carl Hiaasen, a passionate conservationist who’s famous for using demented humor in his adult novels to skewer Florida’s obsessive over-development. The movie is actually Hiaasen-lite, with none of the perverse murders, grotesque mutilations, sassy stripteasers or insane scientists that adult Hiaasen fans have come to know and love. The closest Hoot comes to being demented is the scene where alligators are found in the construction site’s porta-potties — and even that is handled with politically correct restraint. Hoot does include Hiaasen’s usual cast of greedy land developers, clueless politicians and doofus law enforcers — all of whom are adults — so kids should appreciate that.
Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman, The Butterfly Effect) is the new kid in Coconut Cove, a gorgeous spot on the southern tip of Florida. He makes friends with Beatrice (Brie Larson, Sleepover), the soccer player with an attitude, and her brother, Mullet Fingers (Cody Linley, Cheaper by the Dozen), who is on the lam from a military academy and is hiding out in an abandoned boat. Mullet Fingers, so called because of his love of the slippery fish that he catches and puts back into the water, has been fighting a one-man eco-war against the frantic pancake-house contractor who’s trying to meet his construction deadline. An over-eager police rookie, Officer Delinko (Luke Wilson, The Family Stone), is assigned the hapless task of stopping the elusive vandal who keeps pulling up the site’s survey stakes. So it’s development vs. the environment, with the cops caught in the middle and the tiny, wise owl “hooting” over it all.
Singer Jimmy Buffett, who, like Hiaasen, is dedicated to preserving Florida’s delicate ecosystem, is one of Hoot‘s producers and provides six catchy tunes. (Parrotheads will recognize their beach-bum guru in his role as the school’s science teacher.) Hoot marks the feature-film debut of actor and long-time TV-director Will Shriner. Since he brought on a famous cinematographer to help him out (Michael Chapman, The Fugitive), we can only blame what must have been a super-low budget for the badly lit, jarring look of some of the scenes. But the teen actors, the humor and the inspiring footage of Florida’s unique landscape make Hoot worthwhile, and kids should enjoy it. Rated PG for mild bullying and brief language.
– reviewed by Marcianne Miller