An unexpected effort from writer Carl Hiaasen (previously known for writing novels like "Striptease" and "Stormy Weather"), "Hoot" is a rather goofy little tale about saving protected animals. There's certainly nothing wrong with a film about the subject, but while the picture has some good intentions, it just stumbles in its attempts to present its messages.
The picture opens with Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman) moving from Montana to Florida - his latest move and new school of many in recent years. He tries to fit in, although he's consistently confronted by the local bully. On the bus, he keeps spotting a kid running down the street barefoot, seemingly passing up the bus. Soon enough, he finds out that the kid is Mullet Fingers (Cody Linley), a runway who has essentially set-up residence at a construction site and spends his days thinking of dangerous (rather surprisingly so for a kids picture - putting gators into porta toilets and releasing dangerous snakes) ways to scare away nearby developers.
Although Mullet (and his sister, played by Brie Larson) aren't exactly friendly to the newcomer, they eventually accept Roy and let him in on why they're out there: the developer is building a pancake house over land where endangered owls have their home. Oddly, the kids don't realize that the creatures are endangered until late in the movie.
Again, it's very nice to see a picture whose focus is protecting endangered animals. However, "Hoot" just goes about things in a manner that's dismaying, from the dangerous steps that Mullet takes to scare off the developers to the corny slapstick (a running gag has Roy getting hit in the head with a golf ball as he wanders through a course) and over-the-top villians (the bad guys are such cartoons that they might as well twirl mustaches.) Additionally, pacing feels off and the first half boasts some incredibly unnecessary narration (which thankfully suddenly stops in the second half.)
The performances don't bring much to the table, with Lerman offering a pretty bland effort. Larson ("Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants") fares better in a more lively performance as a tomboy who befriends Roy. Luke Wilson gets stuck in a ridiculous (Wilson is just too low-key to be remotely convincing playing wacky) and rather pointless role as a bumbling police officer who befriends the kids. Neill Flynn (brilliant as the janitor in "Scrubs") is wasted in a minor role as Roy's father.
I've liked Hiaasen's work in the past and "Hoot" almost makes me want to read the book to see how much has been changed by writer/director Wil Shriner (his first feature after a long line of efforts directing sitcoms)'s adaptation. Films about saving the environment are welcome (especially given that every day sees more wildlife destruction due to development), but the kids in this movie go about things in the wrong way and the picture ends up feeling like an average family sitcom.
VIDEO: "Hoot" is presented by New Line Home Entertainment in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Aside from some minor edge enhancement spotted at times, the picture appeared crisp and clean, with no print flaws, pixelation or other issues. The colors appeared warm and rich (especially given the Florida scenery) and sharpness and detail looked consistently strong throughout.
SOUND: While I wasn't expecting much from the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation, the movie's audio offers a surprising amount of activity, with the rear speakers kicking in various background sounds (birds chirping, etc.) While not an official EX soundtrack, enabling EX resulted in a more enjoyable, more immersive experience. Sound quality was first-rate, with clear dialogue, music and effects.
EXTRAS: A commentary from director Wil Shriner and author Carl Hiaasen is offered and available from the set-up menu. Otherwise, A mildly amusing blooper reel starts off the extras section. Following that, we're presented with a set of deleted scenes (Shriner and Hiaasen provide optional commentary) and a set of featurettes. An 8-minute featurette visiting with an animal rescue center is interesting, as are two featurettes that show how kids can make a positive difference to the wildlife in their own environment (a couple of years ago, I fed local squirrels to the point where they would be sitting and waiting outside when I woke up in the morning. Unfortunately, I couldn't train them to throw out peanut shells when they were done.)
Final Thoughts: Kids may want to check out "Hoot" on DVD, but I'd recommend trying it as a rental. While "Hoot" is not objectionable in terms of language, parents may want to watch it with their kids to explain better ways to go about protecting wildlife than some of the ones that the kids in the movie use. The DVD presentation offers very good audio/video quality, along with a nice helping of supplemental features.
The Film C