Jimmy Buffett is a popular singer, author, restaurateur, icon of a beach bum lifestyle, and branding fiend without parallel. Buy his beach chairs, buy his hats, buy his frozen concoction maker, buy his shrimp, eat at his restaurant, or read his books. His music, the foundation of his paradise flavored empire, draws thousands of inebriated fans to concerts every year. After listening to some of his music, I think his popularity owes a lot to the amount of alcohol consumed before and during his concerts, but I also don’t get the popularity of Celine Dion and I can’t blame that on alcohol. The one multi-media area that Mr. Buffett had previously avoided was movie making. But, as he says in one of the DVD extras for Hoot, “it’s not brain surgery.” It certainly is not, Jimmy, but it’s also not as easy as it looks.
Hoot was adapted from a kid’s book by author Carl Hiaasen. Hiaasen primarily writes for adults, focusing on Florida-centric thrillers with a heavy environmental emphasis. Hoot covers that same ground, but makes teens the protagonists, protecting a small portion of the Florida environment against the charging bulldozers of development. Jimmy Buffett, Florida resident and conservation fan, bought the movie rights, produced the film, wrote original songs, and plays a small role as a teacher.
The result of the efforts of Buffett and television director Wil Shriner, who directed and wrote the screenplay, is a film that comes off like a better than average Disney Channel offering. It’s very episodic with only tenuous connection between the various events, many of which don’t serve the supposed main story. This is Shriner‘s feature writing and directing debut and he doesn‘t seem to be able to break free from the 30 minute sitcom format he knows. Hoot sputters to life at times, but like a car using the wrong kind of gas, it gasps and backfires for a few yards and then quits completely.
Three teens, new-kid Roy (Logan Lerman), tough girl Beatrice (Brie Larson), and free spirit “Mullet Fingers” (Cody Linely), learn that the construction of a pancake house in their idyllic Florida town of Coconut Grove will destroy burrowing holes filled with owl families. Mullet Fingers (his name comes from a type of fish, this movie is mullet hair free) has been disrupting construction on his own, drawing the ire of the construction foreman (Tim Blake Nelson) and the attention of a dim witted local cop (Luke Wilson.) Obviously, family movies like this don’t end with a lot of dead baby owls, so get ready for a showdown between the corporate bulldozers and a few kids, showing anyone can save the environment if they get involved.
The overall sentiment is certainly important and well presented. There is a lengthy scene where Roy and Mullet Fingers take a boat into the rivers, bays and inlets of Southern Florida and see the amazing variety and beauty of the local environment. A small amount of the slapstick humor, primarily related to Luke Wilson’s character, is amusing. But the movie is a little too disjointed to get it out of TV movie land. It takes more than half of the movie to focus the story on saving the owls. There is a longer then necessary attempt to hook Roy up with the other two kids, a useless subplot of Roy being harassed by a local bully, a longish section where Mullet Fingers is injured and the others have to lie to a doctor about what exactly happened, and Wilson’s character getting into trouble with his Captain and having to drive a little 3 wheeled meter maid vehicle. These segments don’t propel the story and draw focus away from the “hoot” in Hoot. In fact, it’s hard to generate much sympathy for the owls, since they are almost never on screen in the first 80 minutes of the film.
Buffett provides some original songs, and if you are a fan they will probably increase your enjoyment of the movie. I’m not, but in a few cases they were the perfect soundtrack for beautiful vistas and wildlife shots. He can’t act worth a crap, though, but his part is pretty small. His comment that making movies isn’t brain surgery continues to be true, but his first attempt in this media shows it’s not as easy as selling margarita mix to drunk concert goers.
I was very impressed at the amount and breadth of the extras show on the single Hoot disc. There are five to seven minute featurettes on literally ever key element of the movie. Writer/Director Wil Shriner, Jimmy Buffett, Carl Hiaasen, the teen actors, and the animals all get a separate featurette. They aren’t exactly brimming with originality but you do get a sense of why the movie was made, what everyone was trying to achieve, and how difficult it was to work with owls, snakes, and dogs. Everyone comes off as genuinely interested in the educational aspects of the movie and the desire to spark families to become more personally involved in their local environment.
Shrewdly interspersed among the other featurettes, are public service messages masquerading as DVD extras. The National Wildlife Federation uses scenes from the movie and an appearance by co-star Brie Larson to encourage kids and families to build a backyard habitat. Honestly, the featurette was heavy on “you should do this” and light on any practical knowledge, but it does show that not a lot of space or tools are needed to set a few critters up for the high life outside your back door. There is also a segment on animal rescue centers, including the one where the owls used in the movie were found. Finally, the movie’s distributors supported a habitat protection project in a few areas, including Arizona, so there is a short featurette on that work which provides some basic knowledge about the owls seen in the film. The segments are somewhat brief and are interesting enough to hold the attention of all but the littlest kids.
In addition to the myriad of featurettes, there is a brief blooper reel. I like these, but man, sometimes they stretch a bit with what they call a blooper. I will say that at the end of the reel there is one of the best bloopers I’ve ever seen. Make sure you stick with it until the kid hangs up the phone and pulls his back pack down and then watch the extra walking behind him, it’s hilarious. There are also a handful of deleted scenes which are not exactly thrilling but do have a commentary track so director Shriner can explain where they would have appeared and why they were cut. One theatrical trailer is included. The disc also has DVD-ROM elements which I simply could not get to work, but reportedly you can read the script while watching the movie and play some games.
Finally, there is a commentary by Shriner and Hiaasen. They are clearly enjoying themselves and provide some good information about the locations and what they were trying to do with each shot. Shriner is a funny guy and doesn’t take the commentary too seriously, which is a good way to handle it.
The film looks good, very sharp and clear in 1.85 to 1 widescreen. It’s easy to navigate around the menus, although as I mentioned, I couldn’t get the DVD-ROM stuff to work. I’ll also note this here: the movie is rated PG for “mild bullying” and “brief language.” This is a G film if anything is, there is nothing in this movie that is the least bit scary in comparison to Malificent turning into a dragon in Sleeping Beauty, for example. Don’t be put off by the PG if you are unsure if this movie is ok for your kids.
This is one case where a pretty average movie is somewhat improved by the DVD presentation. It’s still one disc so you can probably pick it up at a low price and get a more than fair amount of interesting extras.