“Hoot” is a lightweight, eco-conscious kidpic about three youths uniting to protect endangered owls from developers in South Florida. New Line release is opening as counterprogramming to presumptive blockbuster “Mission: Impossible III.” But the pic’s dawdling pace, predictable plotting and absence of marquee players will likely make mom and dad think twice about chaperoning. Squeaky-clean, family-friendly opus should fly higher in homevid.
Making his feature filmmaking debut, vet TV helmer (and former talkshow host) Wil Shriner has adapted — faithfully, if not thrillingly — an award-winning young-adult novel by Carl Hiaasen, the Florida-based author better known for adult-skewing tomes such as “Strip Tease” and “Skinny Dip.”
Middle-schooler Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman of TV’s “Jack & Bobby”) prepares for yet another semester as the new kid on the block; because his father (Neil Flynn) accepts frequent job transfers as a Justice Dept. employee, Roy’s been to eight schools in the past six years. The latest move finds him leaving Montana for Coconut Cove, Fla.
Roy makes a serious sartorial blunder on his first day at the new school — he wears boots and jeans, not a T-shirt and flip-flops — and earns the nickname Cowgirl. Things get worse for Roy as he runs afoul of a bully (Eric Phillips), then inadvertently antagonizes Beatrice (Brie Larson), a tomboyish soccer player.
All of which helps explain why Roy is so eager to befriend another young outsider, a barefoot, sun-baked runaway known as Mullet Fingers (Cody Linley), a wiry teen who lives in a deserted fishing boat and repeatedly sabotages the construction of a national-chain pancake restaurant on a site where burrowing owls nest.
Shriner emphasizes broad comedy and cartoonish slapstick as Mullet Fingers — aided by Roy and Beatrice — employs stealth, cunning and, occasionally, a few well-placed snakes and baby alligators to make life miserable for a dim-witted site supervisor (Tim Blake Nelson) and his corporate greedhead boss (Clark Gregg). In sharp contrast, long stretches between comic set pieces are almost soporifically mild.
Nelson and Gregg overplay gamely, earning a few chuckles here and there. But top-billed Luke Wilson, as a none-too-bright beat cop who fancies himself a great detective, proves even funnier while taking a slightly subtler approach to tomfoolery.
The three young leads are earnest but bland, frequently upstaged by attractive Gulf Coast locales (mostly in and around Ft. Lauderdale) beautifully lensed by Michael Chapman. Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett (who co-produced the pic and cameos as Roy’s science teacher) contributes some nifty covers of pop hits and a few original tunes for the pleasant soundtrack.