Tween comedy is too mellow to stand out as summer counter-programming
Logan Lerman ("Jack & Bobby") plays Roy, a tween whose parents make him move from Montana to Coconut Cove, Florida. He's the new kid in school and he immediately runs afoul of the obligatory fat bully and gets lost going to his classes. The only things that attract his attention are a barefoot boy (Cody Linley) who runs like the wind and the tall, threatening soccer jock (Brie Larson) who takes exception to his interest in the swift, mysterious stranger. Mostly looking for a purpose, Roy becomes interested in a construction site where the newest Mother Paula's All-American Pancake House is about to go up, even if it means annihilating a family of endangered burrowing owls. Soon, he and his friends have a cause they're willing to fight for.
The kids make for a still and unremarkable center, but Hiaasen's touch is evident in the ensemble of colorful grown-ups on the fringes, including Tim Blake Nelson, as a bumbling construction chief, and Clark Gregg, as Mother Paula's greedy regional manager. Those wacky characters are tempered by Luke Wilson's well-meaning, but inept cop and the presence of Jimmy Buffet as a high school teacher.
Buffet was also a producer on the movie and contributes five songs to the film, songs with give structure to the seemingly endless string of montages that pass for plot progression. Because the songs often seem to literally articulate the emotions in the scenes they accompany, nobody will have any problems knowing what to think or feel.
Though Buffet's easy-listening charm and Wilson's laconic amiability are perfectly matched, Shriner never exactly settles on a tone for the rest of the movie. The broad grotesques on the fringes are meant to off-set how normal Roy and his family (including parents underplayed by Neil Flynn and Kiersten Warren) are, but the Montana-ites suffuse the whole film with their vanilla innocuousness. There has to have been a way for "Hoot" to have preached the gospel of wildness preservation, grabbed a PG rating and still maintained some of Hiaasen's delirious nastiness.
"Hoot" is a coming-of-age story, often to the point of distraction. All signs point to Lerman going through a major growth spurt during the shoot and his height relative to co-star Larson changes from scene to scene and occasionally from shot to shot. It's also a bit unclear how much of Lerman's dialogue had to be relooped because his voice changed, but the whole thing is a bit distracting. Then again, it provided me with minutes of amusement when I was getting bored with aerial shots of marshes or golf courses. Needing to seek such a refuge isn't a good sign.