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flipper Flipper
Starring Elijah Wood, Paul Hogan, one dolphin, and three robots
Written and Directed by Alan Shapiro

Gimme a second to vent.

For the last three months or so, I have been sitting in theaters waiting to see other movies, happily tapping my feet when the Flipper trailer would come on the screen and Del Amitri would sing "Look around the world, baby . . ."

[Side note: I left the music biz back in 1985 and haven't paid attention since then, so I don't know if Del Amitri is a solo or a band. So please don't take me to task if I get the grammar wrong.]

I sat in the movie theater watching Flipper, complete with ponderous, string-heavy score, knowing that sooner or later I'd hear Del Amitri singing "Look around the world, pretty baby . . ." and be happily tapping my feet. But what I got was Matthew Sweet doing a remake of the 1960s television theme, and an execrable cover version of Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime."

My foot hung there, all the way through the final credits, waiting for the happy little beat which never came.

I'll get to what little story line there is in the film momentarily. It's one thing if a trailer misleads an audience as to what the film will deliver. We expect that. It happens all the time. But to blatantly use something that isn't in the film at all -- and this is one of the few times I was actually looking forward to a "music by" bit (even though there is no such promise in the final advertising). I felt totally ripped off.

This is not the same as the truck tire flying through the window in the Twister trailer. It was not out of keeping with the film. But Flipper promised that song and it didn't deliver and I felt totally and completely ripped off. I'm repeating myself, so you KNOW I'm ticked off. I haven't felt as angry walking out of a movie since Michael Mann turned his back on all his carefully structured continuity, and flushed the last hour of Heat down the toilet. But Flipper didn't promise anything more than a good time, and a satisfying revisit to the TV show today's parents watched when they were kids. That means me.

So I'll put my feelings aside and get down to whether or not Flipper delivered. During the past two weeks I've received e-mail from some of you out there who saw advance previews with your kids and liked the movie a lot. I can only go by what my 3- and 6-year-old nephew and niece have previously done. Any movie which takes an hour to set up the basic relationships would have lost 'em entirely, regardless of how good the remainder of the movie was. (Which is what happened in Balto, an animated flick which Cranky liked once it kicked into gear. And, to a lesser extent, here.) I can also go by the reactions of the kidlets packed into the theater with their parents in tow.

They were bored out of their minds.

[We pause to insert the standard disclaimer: Cranky makes no comparisons of the movie to the source material. Which in this case is difficult, because from eight years of age I adored the television show. Onwards...]

There are a lot of little stories that Flipper tries to tell. As we begin, it is the story of a ticked-off teenage city kid (Elijah Wood) who is sent into exile with an Australian-accented uncle (Paul Hogan) when his mom goes through a divorce. For this, he misses a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert that he was holding "All Access" laminates for. Then it becomes the story of Hogan and his girlfriend, whose son does not speak. Then it becomes the story of an evil fisherman (Jonathan Banks) who shoots at dolphins while drunken tourists and crew (including the original Sandy, Luke Halpin -- shame on you) act stupid. Finally it's the story of a first love between Wood's character and a local girl (Jessica Wesson).

These are lovely subplots which fail to cohere into a solid story. Because what Flipper is, is a 30-minute television story blown up to two-hour length. Flipper is supposed to be, like it or not, the story of a boy and his dolphin. That's not very PC of me, but that's the breaks. Like "Lassie," on which it was cloned, Flipper always comes to the rescue when Sandy gets in trouble. In the 1990s version, Flipper gets in trouble first and Sandy comes to the rescue.

The entire production is a clumsy, clunky mismatch of poorly-edited shots and badly-connected story bits. It's the kind of thing that, if I were eight years old, I would have no problem with. The underwater shots are beautiful, including a sequence towards the end filled with Flipper and his "family." And by the time the entire thing is over, and the 1-800 number comes up on screen, you realize that you've paid your full ticket price for an infomercial on how it isn't right to treat dolphins badly.

Which Cranky is all for, but not at the cost of a movie ticket. If you want to support dolphin rights, here's the number: 1-800-FLIPPER. Spend the cost of the ticket on the phone call and find out where a donation may do some good. Not an endorsement.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Flipper, he would have paid . . .

$3.00

Rent it. If you've got kids aged, say 5-6 to about 10-11, it's a good place to park 'em for two hours. Littler kidlets will be confused. Older kids will want to be elsewhere.

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Click to buy films starring Paul Hogan

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