At the beginning of Hoot, the film version of Carl Hiaasen's Newbery Honor-winning book, Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman) is riding the bus for his first day at a new school. A boy about his age runs by the bus with no shoes on, and the identity of the shoeless sprinter consumes Roy. He must find out who this is.
What is the question?
He dwells on it for days, and somebody finally asks, "Why do you care so much?" Roy says, "I don't know."
Neither does the audience. Because he had no shoes? Because he was fast?
The only reason Roy seems to be seeking the boy is because it will advance the plot. For a film marketed as a mystery adventure for kids, it's a bad sign that the biggest mystery is why any of the characters do the things they do. A kid gets arrested without any evidence whatsoever. People who hate each other magically become best friends. Police chiefs yell—apparently just because that's what police chiefs do. And instead of going to a hospital, a teen turns to Roy for medical help—even though Roy is neither a friend nor a doctor. Because so many characters and their actions are so contrived and unexplained, nothing is believable. Worse, Hoot is chock full of unclear and even troubling messages to kids.
The film has good intentions. Set in Florida, Hoot champions environmental causes and the preservation of beauty and wildlife. When Roy finds the shoeless sprinter, Mullet Fingers (Cody Linley), he's pulled into a campaign to stop the Mother Paula's Pancake House from illegally building in a environmentally-protected area. Of course, no one in the town apparently remembers that the piece of land is protected because of its population of endangered owls. So, along with Mullet's sister, Beatrice (Brie Larson), the boys have to take on not just bloodthirsty bullies, but also various adult villains—greedy land developers, corrupt politicians and clueless cops—to ensure nature is protected.
And perhaps that's the biggest problem with Hoot. Instead of being strictly about preserving nature, Hoot becomes a film where kids not only need to save the day, but to go against all the adults around them. Why? Because the adults are two-dimensional dolts; they're all either incompetent or ruthless. The corporate head of Mother Paula's is so smarmy, greedy and unredeemable, he should have a handlebar mustache. And Luke Wilson's Officer Delinko is the standard bumbling movie cop who can't even get out of his car without turning the windshield wipers on.
Hoot's unintended anti-authority message is worsened because people's actions are so contrived. For instance, at one point, Roy is onto some evidence that proves Mother Paula's greedy land developer knew all along that the ground was protected by law. Officer Delinko stumbles in on Roy in the library, where he's researching the case. For some reason, Roy just takes off running and Hoot falls victim to the all-too-familiar "run from police" movie flaw—which happens when a screenwriter realizes that telling the cops everything would solve the hero's dilemma. So instead, the character runs.