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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Hoot

Yesterday I dragged myself to the Essex Cinemas to see Hoot. Yes, I said “dragged.” Let’s face it, if you are over the age of 16 the idea of seeing a movie about teenagers saving some tiny owls from having their habitat ruined sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry. In the Winter.

I don’t really expect much of teenagers, so the Hoot kids weren't going to have to try very hard to meet my expectations. That is until I talked with Heather Austin, one of the real life teens who work at the Essex Cinemas. Heather is a quiet young woman and whenever I blow in like a typhoon, she usually hangs back while I blather on endlessly with the other concession queens about what’s new in Hollywood gossip. Imagine my surprise then when hushed Heather spoke up and mentioned that she had been gone for a week to Mississippi. “Mississippi?” I asked, “Why?”


With that Heather told me of her Spring Break week. While other kids were going off to Florida to do what parents try desperately not to think their kids might be doing, Heather and several others from her Church youth group took a thirty hour bus ride (one way) down to rural Mississippi to help out with Hurricane Katrina relief, repairing houses that were damaged by the storm. I was absolutely jaw-droppingly amazed. The selflessness and good-heartedness Heather showed in putting in such hard work for nothing but the satisfaction of knowing she helped make the world a better place for some complete strangers really touched my stony cold heart. And now I wondered how the owl lovers could possibly measure up.

Hoot begins with the miserable experience of Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman, of tv's Jack & Bobby), suffering through his first day of school in Coconut Grove, Florida, a new place as different from his last home in Montana as any place could be. Roy has managed in the course of a few hours to incite the wrath of the school bully, Dana Matherson (played to disgusting perfection by first-time actor Eric Phillips), annoyed popular girl Beatrice (Brie Larson, Sleepover; 13 Going On 30), and involved himself in hunting down a mysterious barefoot runner who he suspects is behind a series of vandal attacks on the site of a new Mother Paula’s Pancake House construction site.

Soon enough Roy is in deep trouble after smashing the nose of Matherson and he has attracted the attention of the local cop, Officer Delinko (Luke Wilson, The Family Stone; Old School), a shameless rip-off, er, homage to David Arquette’s Deputy Dewey of the Scream trilogy. Delinko thinks Roy may know more than he’s letting on about what’s going on at the Mother Paula’s site. He’s right, of course, because in short order Roy has tracked down and become best friends with the mysterious barefoot boy, a military school runaway called Mullet Fingers (adolescent pin-up boy Cody Linley of tv’s That’s So Raven!), who happens to be Beatrice’s step-brother.

Quicker than you can say “Hoot”, the trio bonds intensely in their love for a family of burrowing owls that live on the property where the Pancake House is going to be built, and most of the movie follows their passionate if illegal acts as they fight with the doltish construction guard Curly (Tim Blake Nelson, Syriana; Holes) to keep work from beginning.

Of course, the biggest question anyone over the age of 16 might have would be why the kids simply wouldn’t report the presence of the owls to the authorities instead of becoming fugitives from the law in the process of keeping their feathered friends safe. That is the biggest problem parents may find with the film. It basically condones the kids doing everything from destroying a police cruiser to kidnapping a company executive, and by the movie’s end they are embraced by the townspeople as heroes for caring about the owls with no one concerned about their less than stellar behavior. Oh well, at least the owls are saved.

What the movie lacks in character development or logic (Does nobody care enough to come looking for the missing Mullet Fingers? Just where does he get access to a boat and the gas to pilot it whenever he wants? And how does he get the money to buy the things he needs for his many mischievous pranks?) are abandoned for a feel-good ending that comes off just like something you would expect to find in a sixth grader’s story book, which is where Hoot originated before singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett bought the rights and turned it into this pastel version of what life feels like in most of his songs, which he peppers throughout the film while also writing original music for the film.

Personally, I didn’t give a hoot for Hoot, but then I am hardly the 'tween audience of twelve to fifteen year olds the movie is aiming to entice. Of course after hearing about Heather and how she spends her free time in the non-cinematic realm it is hard to generate a lot of entusiasm for this trio of twerps who lie to their parents, doctors and the cops, skip out on school, elude the police, destroy thousands of dollars in property and commit a capital crime all in the name of eco-friendliness with our endangered birds of prey. With friends like these, the poor little owls might as well dig their burrows closer to the state prison so they won’t have so far to fly on visiting day. It’s only a matter of time.

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