(PG) 1 Star Laura McPhee There is a long tradition of orphaned or neglected protagonists in American children’s literature. From Tom Sawyer to Maniac McGhee, the young teen-ager defying the rules of the grown-up world and ultimately teaching those same grown-ups a “valuable lesson” has become a staple. In Hoot, based on the award-winning book by Carl Hiaasen, four junior high school kids take on greedy landowners and corrupt politicians to save the local habitat of an endangered species of burrowing owls from being displaced or killed to make way for a new pancake restaurant. And because every adult in town is either invisible or incompetent, only the film’s trio of outcast rebel teen-agers can be counted on to stop the bulldozers and save the owls. Parents, teachers, doctors and the police are unreliable at best and crooks and idiots at worst in this film. And it is their presumed lack of intellect and empathy that justifies the truancy, vandalism, trespassing, theft, kidnapping, fleeing from police, lying to police and physical violence that dominates most of the film’s action sequences. Give these same kids a few years and a can of spray paint, and they just might find themselves under arrest by the U.S. Department of Justice as “eco-terrorists” alongside other guerilla environmentalists, rather than being hailed as the “heroes” the movie’s tag line proclaims them to be. The plot of Hoot is trite, the acting is embarrassingly cartoonish, the characters are flat as pancakes and the resolution is both predictable and preposterous. The film, which stars Luke Wilson doing a really bad Keystone Kop shtick, was adapted for the screen by director Wil Shriner and produced by Frank Marshall and Jimmy Buffett, who also provides original music. In the end, Hoot begs the question: Who thinks these movies are good for kids? Seriously, who?

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