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‘Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home’ (PG)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 21, 1995

THE PRODUCERS of "Free Willy," that runaway hit about a big, lovable orca whale and the unruly 12-year-old who grew to love him, obviously realized they would need to reprise that central friendship for the sequel. But they didn't realize how much, or in what way.

"Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home" adds a few wrinkles to the story: Jesse, the boy (Jason James Richter), now two years older, discovers he has an equally unruly half-brother. He also develops his first romance with a girl. But these and other developments are never better than sequel-mongering formula. And when Jesse and his 7,000-pound co-star do get together, they're caught in a big action rescue spectacle. This is hardly the moving story of a boy and his killer whale.

As the movie opens, Jesse is summoned to a meeting with adoptive parents Glen (Michael Madsen) and Annie Greenwood (Jayne Atkinson). They've just learned that his biological mother, who dumped him so many years ago, has died. She's left behind a kid called Elvis (Francis Capra), who will stay temporarily with the Greenwoods, as well as accompany them on their camping trip.

Resentful toward Elvis for having all that time with his mother, Jesse treats him coldly. Meanwhile, Jesse's adult pal, Randolph (August Schellenberg), who has recently spotted Willy and his family in the waters of the Pacific Northwest, invites Jesse onto his boat to reunite with his waterbound friend. There's another benefit to the sea trip: Randolph's teenage goddaughter, Nadine (Mary Kate Schellhardt), is aboard, placed in this movie primarily for Jesse's emotional development.

Not long after the Jesse-Willy reunion (the best part of the movie, in terms of cute whale-spotting), an oil tanker barrels into local waters, manned by an impatient captain. A couple of wrong turns later, the region is in major environmental trouble, Willy's entire family is in danger, and we have to endure oil company troubleshooter M. Emmet Walsh, who seems to play the same shady, drawling character, whether he's in "Blood Simple" or "Blade Runner." The prospect of a Walsh reappearance should be reason enough to respect the environment.

There's little a family audience will find "wrong" with "Free Willy 2." Most of the principals are appealing: Richter retains his endearing testiness. As the precocious Elvis, Capra has his moments. And once again, Madsen works well against his heavy image, with craggy paternal glances, squints and mannerisms. But the movie, which never transcends its money-motivated reason for existence, just resembles so many episodic plot elements floating alongside each other, like uninteresting driftwood inevitably bound for the video-rental pulp mill not far down the river.

FREE WILLY 2: THE ADVENTURE HOME (PG) — Contains mild profanity and a frank adult-child conversation about sex.

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