Film reviews and more since 2009

Hoot (2006) review

Dir. Wil Shriner

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★

As an elementary schooler in the early 2000s, it was difficult to walk into any library and not see copies of Carl Hiaasen’s young adult novel Hoot prominently displayed. The minimalistic blue cover depicted a cute little creature with doe-eyes and an upside-down orange triangle for a nose. It allowed for some imagination as to what the story was all about. The simple cover in fact housed a deceptively complex story about a trio of environmentally conscious tweens trying to stop a corporation from bulldozing a colony of burrowing owls in favor of a pancake house.

For Parrotheads like myself, the film adaptation of Hoot is noteworthy for the presence of Jimmy Buffett, a long-time friend of Hiaasen. Buffett recorded several songs for the film, co-produced it, and even plays a minor supporting character. Apparently, I was one of the last to know of Buffett’s involvement in this all-but-forgotten iteration of a popular mid-aughts novel. I made a post in a Jimmy Buffett-centric Facebook group, and was gravely outnumbered in my lukewarm reaction to the film itself by those who claimed to have loved it, enjoy watching it with their children, and some educators, who continue to use the book as a teaching tool.

Hoot‘s message isn’t its problem. It’s actually an inspiring one about taking a stand for those who can’t stand for themselves, and recognizing how corporate greed impacts the environment and often displaces animals in a community. It’s easy to see why Buffett and Hiaasen, a Floridian himself, got along so well. The issue with Hoot is its script has the brain the size of a burrowing owl, and it’s brought down considerably by unrealistic characters and a rampantly silly tone, even when things gets serious.

The story follows Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman), a middle-schooler whose family relocates from Montana to Coconut Grove, FL on account of dad’s (Neil Flynn) new job. On the school bus, he immediately becomes the target of a bully (a recurring subplot that has no bearing on the larger story), but is almost entirely unfazed by the encounters as he is too focused on a kid with a sun-bleached blonde hair, whom he sees sprinting down the road alongside the school-bus every day. After failing to catch him one day and then being taunted by cottonmouth snakes another, Roy finally meets the boy who calls himself “Mullet Fingers” (Cody Linley).

Roy learns Mullet Fingers is a rebellious teen who doesn’t go to school and lives to protect Florida wildlife. He has his sights set on a village of precious burrowing owls, whose homes, and lives, are threatened when a corporation zeroes-in on the land in order to erect a pancake house. The good news? The local police department has assigned the dumbest officer (Luke Wilson) to catch the vandal responsible for making a construction foreman’s (Tim Blake Nelson) life a living hell. One night, Mullet Fingers spray-paints the windows of the officer’s police cruiser black so he oversleeps.

Mullet Fingers’ stepsister, “Beatrice the Bear” (a young Brie Larson in one of her earliest performances), gets roped into the plan too. Combined, these characters form a quirky trifecta, despite their eccentric personalities depicted in the book failing to come through in the movie.

Coming from a completely biased viewer, Hoot‘s saving grace is the presence of Jimmy Buffett, who plays Roy’s science teacher in the film. More than just being capable of being an easygoing presence whenever he pops up, Buffett’s musical contributions to the film give the film a breeziness that works to halt some of its business. The film opens with Buffett’s delightful cover of “Wondering Where the Lions Are;” later, a reworked version of his song “Floridays” plays over some gorgeous overhead shots of the Florida coast, and there’s even an upbeat ditty that once again brings two of music’s most delightful singer-songwriters in Buffett and Alan Jackson together (albeit not for a hurricane well before five o’clock local time). The entire soundtrack is excellent, which is probably why a physical CD costs you about three-times more than its retail price in the present day.

Buffett’s presence might distract Parrotheads from Hoot‘s rampant shortcomings. As mentioned, the conflict between Roy and a school-bus bully isn’t the least-bit necessary for the story, and it unfortunately leads to one of the movie’s most disheartening scenes. In an act of self-defense, Roy elbows the bully so hard that he breaks his nose. Roy returns home to his parents explaining that their son be the one to apologize to the bully. Being that this is a family film, hopefully it gives parents a moment to recognize that this kind of parental behavior isn’t just wrong, it’s cowardice.

Furthermore, as adorable as the burrowing owls in Hoot are, they are scantly developed. Director Wil Shriner’s script doesn’t afford the animals any meaningful substance, and Hiaasen’s environmentalist message seems to be adapted for the screen for no other reason than to show one of the most incredulous yet idealized efforts to destroy a corporation’s plans to expand at the expense of nature.

To give you an idea: it apexes with the pancake house’s mascot firing the CEO, right before dozens of townspeople who, despite gathering in the woods for the breaking ground of a new restaurant, haven’t bothered to ask the question: why the hell would a pancake house be opening in the middle of the woods?

It’s difficult to be too rough on Hoot, however, because the film is well-intentioned, as most films from Walden Media were. I say “were,” even though Walden Media is still very much active, for these types of live-action family films used to be a real treat when they were made (and made well) in the 2000s. Walden was behind Holes, Because of Winn-Dixie, How to Eat Fried Worms, and Bridge to Terabithia. Lately, Walden’s efforts have been headed straight-to-streaming as opposed to the big screen, a big loss for the multiplex, but a sign of the times, I suppose. If you’re watching Hoot for Jimmy Buffett’s contributions, this is probably a three-star movie. In that case, it’s a shame the movie gets in the way of what you came for.

NOTE: As of this writing, Hoot is available to stream on Tubi, free of charge.

Starring: Logan Lerman, Cody Linley, Brie Larson, Luke Wilson, Tim Blake Nelson, Neil Flynn, and Jimmy Buffett. Directed by: Wil Shriner.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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