Critics' Corner

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Desson Howe - Weekend section, "An unimaginative boy-and-his-mammal saga."

Hal Hinson - Style section, "There's something fishy about the saltwater star's new movie."


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'Flipper' Makes Big-Screen Splash

Scene from this movie Surly 14-year-old Sandy Ricks is sent for the summer to a remote part of the Florida Keys. He's put under the care of his reclusive Uncle Porter. Sandy, a city boy who's determined to make it back home in time for a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, is horrified at the prospect of this seaside solitude.

A series of washed-out formulaic developments transform his life. At sea with Uncle Porter, he meets a dolphin, then saves it from being shot by nasty fisherman Dirk Moran. He develops a friendship with the creature, whom he dubs Flipper, and also befriends local girl Kim. -- Desson Howe
Rated PG


Director: Alan Shapiro
Cast: Paul Hogan; Elijah Wood; Chelsea Field; Jessica Wesson; Isaac Hayes; Jonathan Banks
Running Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Filmographies: Elijah Wood; Paul Hogan







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This 'Flipper' Flops

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 17, 1996

A Dolphin is a highly intelligent creature, a source of great myth and, for children at water parks, a nifty, aquatic performer. But few of these qualities are brought to bear in "Flipper," an unimaginative boy-and-his-mammal saga with only tenuous connection to the old television series of the same name.

It's hard to understand why Universal Pictures-one of the industry's most commercially obsessive studios-would aim for a teen and preteen audience that presumably only knows "Flipper" through syndicated reruns.

Surly 14-year-old Sandy Ricks (played by Speed Racer-featured Elijah Wood) is sent for the summer to a remote part of the Florida Keys. He's put under the care of his reclusive Uncle Porter (Paul Hogan), a man whose idea of making toast is blasting white bread with an acetylene torch. Sandy, a city boy who's determined to make it back home in time for a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, is horrified at the prospect of this seaside solitude.

Luckily for him, a series of washed-out formulaic developments transform his life. At sea with Uncle Porter, he meets a dolphin, then saves it from being shot by nasty fisherman Dirk Moran (Jonathan Banks). He develops a friendship with the creature, whom he dubs Flipper, and also befriends local girl Kim (Jessica Wesson), whose job is essentially to support or console Sandy whenever necessary.

The movie contains the requisite ecological lesson when Sandy, Kim, Porter and his marine biologist-girlfriend Cathy (Chelsea Field) collaborate to collect evidence of Dirk Moran's nasty habit of dumping toxic waste in the ocean. There's nothing objectionable about the movie; that relationship between Sandy and Kim is squeaky clean, by the way. But this relentlessly trite, third-rate "Free Willy" feels even longer than its 96 minutes-probably because it's hard not to hold your breath until it's over.

FLIPPER (PG) - Contains nothing particularly objectionable.

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'Flipper': Fun With a Porpoise

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 17, 1996

Flipper may be a mammal, but still there's something fishy about the saltwater star's new movie.

For those who don't remember the television series from the '60s, Flipper was Lassie with a blowhole-an underwater hero who managed to rescue his human friends from life-threatening danger week after week. Now, for the '90s movie "Flipper," the premise has been updated as a passable bit of family entertainment with essentially the same modus operandi but with a gentle pro-environmental message: Don't mess with Mother Nature.

The picture opens in a remote fishing village where Sandy (skillful Elijah Wood), a 14-year-old city boy, has been sent to spend the summer with his uncle, Porter (Paul Hogan). The vacation was arranged by the rambunctious boy's mother, who might have been a little more selective in her choice of parental surrogates. Porter is an old hippie and surf bum who lives in a pigsty with his best pal, a filthy pelican named Pete, and sustains himself on a steady diet of SpaghettiOs.

At first, all Sandy wants to do is get out of there and find his way to a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert. But three unforeseen factors conspire against his escape-a hurricane, a playful orphaned dolphin and a cute blonde. The dolphin, who signals to the boy that his name is Flipper, loses his mother when an evil local fisherman (Jonathan Banks) guns her down for destroying his nets. (To make the fisherman appear even more monstrous, the movie shows him dumping toxic waste just offshore, an activity that has nearly destroyed fishing in the area.)

For a while, Flipper is Sandy's only friend on the island. The boy can't stand the crusty Porter, his smelly cigars or his constant references to some band from the Paleolithic period called the Beach Boys. (Apparently, the old head used to be their roadie.) And with Hogan playing the character as some kind of stoner Walter Brennan, you can't really blame him. With Hogan, less is more; he's straight out of the Dean Martin school of acting. But the mellow breeziness in Hogan's style blew away a long time ago.

This is especially true when the congenitally laid-back Aussie shares the screen with young Wood, who was a better actor at the age of 8 than Hogan could ever hope to become. Nearly equal in awfulness are the scenes in which Hogan is called upon to romance Cathy (Chelsea Field), a marine biologist who hangs around waiting for Porter to pop the question.

There's no question who the good guys and the bad guys are. Or who will ultimately triumph. Of course, Flipper-who is played by three bottlenose dolphins, plus a mechanical model-is the movie's real hero. Director Alan Shapiro and his crew have done a beautiful job filming these sleek creatures; when Flipper and his buddies frolic on-screen, they steal our hearts. And yet, somehow, the bad guys make a bigger impression. Banks plays the eco-villain with oily relish, but he, too, is upstaged by his underwater counterpart, a nasty-looking hammerhead shark named Scar. Though he's only an animatron, when this big fella cruises into camera range, your blood runs cold.

Flipper is rated PG.

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