Dolphin Tale

September 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Nathan Gamble, Harry Connick, Jr., Cozi Zuehlsdorff
Directed by:  Charles Martin Smith (“Air Bud”)
Written by:  Karen Janszen (“Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home”) and Noam Dromi (debut)

Suspected to be among the planet’s most intelligent animals, dolphins offer humans the opportunity to interact with what is essentially a wild animal that can actually understand us. While we don’t share a language or opposable thumbs, things like the concept of compassion seem to be a common trait. That notion is at the center of “Dolphin Tale,” loosely based on the true story of Winter, a bottlenose dolphin found trapped in a crab net off the coast of Florida. The ordeal results in an injury to her tail so severe that amputation was the only option.

After rehabilitation at a local aquarium, Winter is fitted with a custom-made prosthetic tail, enabling her to swim in proper dolphin fashion once again. While the bones of that story remain in place, the movie piles on the fiction in an effort to craft a family-friendly inspirational film.

The movie’s story centers on an introverted 11-year-old named Sawyer (Nathan Gamble), a lonely boy who retreats into gadgets and Game Boys instead of making friends or taking part in his cousin’s send off to the military. A bike ride to summer school results in the discovery of a beached dolphin. Sawyer cuts her free before a team from a local aquarium, led by Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.) and his young daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), arrives to whisk the injured cetacean away for emergency care. His curiosity piqued, Sawyer sneaks into the aquarium to check on the dolphin, now christened “Winter” by Hazel. Initially turned away by Dr. Haskett, Sawyer is ultimately allowed to stay after Winter seems to react positively to his presence.

The first half of the film makes for decent if typical family film fodder, even if it features a mugging pelican you’ll want to punch in the beak. But then you realize you’re almost an hour into a movie you’re supposed to see with restless children and you haven’t met Morgan Freeman’s character yet or seen a single prosthetic tail. Yikes.

The second half of the movie slows to a crawl, stretching the story and the audience’s patience with a hurricane, a combat injury, and a lengthy series of artificial fluke beta-testing sessions. Like the similarly-themed “Soul Surfer,” the movie takes an intriguing real-life story of inspiration and smothers it in schmaltz.

New in Town

January 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Renée Zellweger, Harry Connick Jr., J.K. Simmons
Directed by: Jonas Elmer (“Nynne”)
Written by: Ken Rance (debut) and C. Jay Cox (“Sweet Home Alabama”)

Putting a city girl into an unfamiliar environment is probably one of the oldest gags in the screenwriter comedy handbook, so it’s peculiar when someone tries to get away with another version of it so blatantly and without its own personality. But that’s exactly what Danish director Jonas Elmer does with “New in Town,” a movie that’s just as generic as its title.

Put some blame on co-writer C. Jay Cox, who has been down this road before. In 2002’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” he planted a New York socialite played by Reese Witherspoon into the boot-scootin’ South for some sitcom-like scenarios. In “Town,” he and debut screenwriter Ken Rance do the same with Renée Zellweger, this time traveling farther north to give us a dose of banality disguised as a tale of female empowerment.

Zellweger plays Lucy Hill, a Miami businesswoman who has to trade in her high heels for snow boots when she is sent to Minnesota to oversee the restructuring of one of her company’s manufacturing plants. She ends up in New Ulm, a small Minnesotan town where scrapbooking, crow hunting, and watching the Vikings are the only pastimes worth mentioning (Surely the Minnesota Tourism Bureau didn’t sign off on this).

Although she doesn’t want to “get personally attached to the town” since she is only there to supervise the “simple reconfiguration” of the plant, Lucy finds time to spark something up with Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick Jr.), a local union representative who also happens to be the stereotypical flannel-wearing burly man with a heart of gold that’s sure to sweep naïve Lucy off her frostbitten feet.

As a romantic comedy, “New in Town” is lacking in any chemistry between Zellweger and Connick Jr. They’re attraction for each other is spurred by an evening of sharing sob stories and getting caught making out on the couch. Even worse than the underdeveloped romance between the two leads is Cox and Rance’s generalized view of all things Minnesota. There’s bound to be quite a few intelligent people even in a small town like New Ulm, but the screenwriting duo would have you believe anyone knee-deep in snow – including the waitress named Flo – has the brain capacity of a retarded elk.

Renting 1987’s “Baby Boom” starring Diane Keaton and Sam Shepard is a better choice if you want a similar plot outline and a love story set in frigid weather. It’s classic, witty, and won’t have you wondering if all Danish-driven rom coms are always this grating.