Hoot may have a good message about saving the environment somewhere near its center, but it's also filled with potentially harmful messages -- all for the sake of a series of not-very-funny jokes -- that minimize any positive notes. It also happens to be poorly written, badly acted, and sloppily directed.
The writing: Nothing is explained. Just arrived in Florida, doe-eyed new kid in town Roy (Logan Lerman) is a loner who would rather be back in Montana, where he could ride up into the mountains -- alone. On his first day on the school bus, he's bullied by hefty boy Dana (Eric Phillips). While having his face mashed against the window, he notices a blond, barefoot fellow running alongside the bus, and is so fascinated by the sight, he forgets that he's being bashed by the bully. So he begins a search for the runner, though it's never explained why. Neither is it spelled out exactly why "Mullet Fingers" (Cody Linley) is running, only that he's hiding out in Florida after escaping from a private school.
The acting: Lerman gives his Roy a look that's a cross between bewilderment and excitedness. But his performance is completely flat. Linley's Mullet Fingers is composed of anger and determination, but the young actor has no idea how to imbue him with anything approaching personality. His stepsister Beatrice (Brie Larson) is introduced as a "soccer jock with an attitude." But when the script eventually changes her to becoming Roy's friend and protector (wait, that's another writing problem), the young actress can't quite grasp how to make the transition. She jumps from brazen to chummy without bothering to worry about any character arc. Most of the adult roles in the film -- from Tim Blake Nelson's excitable construction manager to Luke Wilson's dummy cop (he's seen reading a book called Detective Made Simple) are overacted shamelessly.
The directing: Of course, all of the above problems fall upon Will Shriner, taking on his first feature film assignment after years of directing TV sitcoms. He's simply not up to the task. He doesn't know how to get his young actors to flesh out their characters; he is possibly afraid to ask his veteran actors to tone it down a bit; and he has no clue that when a scene ends, you're supposed to cut away, not leave your camera on your actors while they stand there waiting to hear "Cut!"
So what's the film's message? Don't let chain restaurants come to town and build in an area that's home to a family of burrowing owlets. You know: Save the environment, protect helpless creatures. Hey, I've got no problem with that. But the film also carelessly goes about promoting vandalism and theft as the only methods of stopping the bad guys. One character is heard, off-screen, bludgeoning a couple of rats with a baseball bat. Sorry, that bit doesn't belong in a film about saving animals.
A lot of things don't belong in this film. Just editing those "standing around" scenes would have reduced the running time. A sequence in which the bully's bullyish mother starts verbally abusing him is neither necessary nor funny. And while co-producer Jimmy Buffett is actually pretty good in a small part as a science teacher, putting him in charge of the soundtrack has resulted in every single song sounding exactly alike. Buffett's milquetoast cover of "Werewolves of London" doesn't need to be in Hoot, or even exist.