There’s a pleasantly dreamy quality to much of “Eye of the Dolphin,” and that goes a long way toward enabling audiences to ignore the formulaic plot and enjoy the laid-back charms of this innocuous indie. Scenario about a troubled Los Angeles adolescent who gains a sense of purpose at her father’s Bahamian research center may have special resonance with tween and teen girls. But it could be difficult to hook that target demographic during the pic’s theatrical run, so “Dolphin” may not net a profit until it swims into ancillary tributaries.
Carly Schroeder, recently effective as a ’70s soccer player in “Gracie,” here plays Alyssa, a rebellious 14-year-old whose proclivity for misbehavior following the death of her mom causes her grandmother, Lucy (Katharine Ross), no end of grief. When Alyssa is expelled from school after being caught smoking pot in the girls’ room, Lucy decides the girl should spend some quality time with the father she’s never known (and always assumed was dead): Hawk (Adrian Dunbar), a Bahamas-based dolphin researcher who’s blissfully unaware that he ever fathered a child.
Talk about bad timing: Alyssa and Lucy arrive unannounced at Hawk’s home base just when he’s struggling to maintain control of the small island’s research center. Hawk wants to focus on studying communication between dolphins, but a snippy rival (Jane Lynch) wants to turn the place into a mini-Sea World.
The father-and-daughter reunion begins on a predictably sour note, despite sweet encouragement from Hawk’s live-in girlfriend (Christine Adams, stunning). But family ties gradually take hold as Alyssa warms to her new environment and befriends a wild dolphin.
Underwater lensing is beautiful throughout, even when it’s obvious a stand-in, or swim-in, is subbing for Schroeder. Shot on location at Port Lucaya on Grand Bahama Island, with many nonpro locals in minor roles, the pic abounds with local color and a mellow vibe. Performances are persuasive across the board, and Schroeder is all the more appealing for having a decidedly nonglam look.
The PG-13 rating, evidently cued by the fleeting scene of pot-smoking, seems unduly harsh, especially since helmer Michael D. Sellers goes to unusual lengths to discourage bad habits. In behind-the-scenes footage shown during the closing credits, Schroeder coughs and sneezes between takes whenever her character puffs on cigarettes of any sort.