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Welcome to Hooters

The most important thing to know about the new movie Hoot, adapted from the children's book by Carl Hiaasen, is that it's co-produced by Jimmy Buffett, who also appears in a small role and provides new music for the soundtrack. Middle-aged drunks and boat owners might possibly rejoice at the news, but their kids may be scratching their heads just a bit. As one might expect from the king of the Parrotheads, the movie version of Hoot is essentially a paean to hanging out on the beach in Florida. But because the target audience is a fair bit under 21, there aren't any margaritas or babes in bikinis — though the female lead, played by Brie Larson, is an all-purpose youth fantasy: a blonde bombshell who wears nerd glasses yet is also strong enough to terrify the school bully. (Larson, like every other teen actress, is also an aspiring pop star.)

Hiaasen, a columnist and novelist not normally known for kiddie lit, has had only one other movie made from his work, that being the Demi Moore vehicle Striptease, a strip-flick that most everyone agrees did not live up to the very modest standard set by Showgirls. Hoot is a better adaptation, but not by a whole lot. Set in the town of Coconut Cove, presumably just down the road from Margaritaville, it's a fairly typical kids-battle-evil-businessmen-to-save-animals story. Young Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman) is a kid whose parents move constantly because of his father's job with the Justice Department. The latest transfer, from Montana to Florida, is particularly difficult for Roy, who felt at home in the mountains. But then one day on the school bus, he spies a skinny blond kid (Cody Linley) running barefoot toward a golf course and becomes obsessed with figuring out who he is.

The mystery kid, who is only ever known by his nickname of "Mullet Fingers" — not because of an affinity for touching redneck hairdos, but rather due to his skill at catching small fish with his hands — is something of an aspiring eco-terrorist, wreaking mini-havoc on the construction site of a new pancake restaurant by pulling up measuring stakes, unleashing snakes, and dropping live alligators in the porta-potties. He does it all for the love of burrowing owls, a rare species that will be bulldozed over if the pancake people have their way.

Roy becomes inspired to help out, and in the process also befriends Mullet Fingers' tough sister Beatrice (Larson), who proves invaluable in fighting off the local dumbass delinquent kid (impressive newcomer Eric Phillips). Meanwhile, because movies for children invariably feature a couple of overacting celebrities playing moronic grown-ups, we get Luke Wilson as a doofus cop trying to figure out what's going on and Tim Blake Nelson as the dull-witted redneck foreman of the construction site. (If you've ever seen either one in anything prior, you'll know what to expect.) Buffett's role is that of a middle-school teacher of marine studies. What, you don't remember taking marine studies at age 14?

Writer-director Wil Shriner has managed to make Hiaasen's writing blander for the big screen, but it doesn't help matters that, of the three young leads, only Larson has any charisma. Linley is simply annoying, while Lerman, who has played younger versions of Mel Gibson, Adam Garcia, and Ashton Kutcher in other movies, seems to have been directed simply to stare into the camera. And for a movie called Hoot, there isn't a lot of owl action. The boys seem more interested in fishing (naturally, they let all the fish go as soon as they catch them).

Running throughout the film is Roy's voice-over narration — an unusual move for an adaptation of a book that wasn't written in first person. It simply doesn't make sense for Roy to be narrating, since many of the events onscreen are ones he wasn't privy to and wouldn't have even subsequently heard details of — scenes involving only Wilson's and Nelson's characters.

Your individual tolerance for Jimmy Buffett music will determine how well all the scenes set to his music go down, and since those make up a substantial portion of the movie, any decision to pay for a ticket should be weighed accordingly. Alternatively, you could just read the book, which has nothing whatsoever to do with Margaritaville and may be set to the soundtrack of your choosing.

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Luke Y. Thompson
Contact: Luke Y. Thompson

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