Carl Hiaasen watered down his usual high jinks to write a children’s novel in 2002, and now his Newbery Honor book is a watered-down kid flick, suggesting the kinds of adventures Tom and Huck might’ve had if they’d lived in the days of Ritalin. Not on medication but eerily unflappable all the same, new kid Roy (Lerman)—relocated to Florida from Montana, where he’s briefly glimpsed in Jake Gyllenhaal’s Brokeback vest—makes friends with a soccer fanatic (Larson) and a runaway (Cody Linley), both eager to prevent a proposed pancake house from uprooting a hidden owl habitat.
Goonies never say die—but then, they also never speechify. Underprotected by the state’s construction laws, Florida’s environment is a cause well worth taking up. To be sure, the bureaucratic double-dealing (courtesy of hapless cop Wilson and slow-witted construction worker Tim Blake Nelson) lends itself to a raffish ensemble humor—a sort of Elmore Leonard for the juice-box set. But with no visual interest and only a wisp of a story to tell, Hoot amounts to a nature-preservation PSA, replete with Jimmy Buffett catch-tunes and a cameo by Robert Wagner as the town’s opportunistic mayor. A commercial would have been more succinct and probably would have paid them better. (Opens Fri; click here for venues.)—Ben Kenigsberg