Jimmy Buffet may be known for his Hawaiian shirts, but there's something undeniably plaid about Hoot, the children's adventure he produced. Given that the source material is a Carl Hiassen novel, it's criminal that writer-director Wil Shriner lightens it up into a movie that might as well have premiered on the Disney Channel.
With none of the aplomb he displayed opposite Christine Lahti on TV's Jack and Bobbby, Logan Lerman plays Roy Eberhardt, whose ever-moving family has unhappily transplanted him from Montana to Florida. When not dodging bullies, Roy befriends a wild child named Mullet Fingers (Cody Linley) and a pretty but tough girl known as Beatrice the Bear (Brie Larson). Roy joins his new friends in their private campaign to undermine a land development threatening a small population of burrowing owls.
Hoot is a traditional children's family adventure in which clueless adults ignore the kids until it's almost too late. Luke Wilson plays a humorously inept cop, Tim Blake Nelson does Don Knotts with a mean streak as the construction superintendent, Robert Wagner walks through as the blithely corrupt mayor (touting "over twelve new jobs" to be provided by the new pancake house), and Buffet's on hand to play a science teacher and warble on the soundtrack ("Good guys win every once in a while/Full grown men get to learn from a child...").
Though witty, TV-bred Shriner has a likeably light touch (witness the junior version of The Fugitive's famous reservoir leap), he should've trusted himself and his source material more—the listless narration is particularly tasteless spackle. As gawky as it is, Hoot benefits from the location photography of Michael Chapman (Raging Bull). Undoubtedly Hoot will entertain kids while delivering its pro-environmental propaganda, but despite a wholesome vibe, the film also happens to endorse underage eco-terrorism.