Eye of the Dolphin, The (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Eye of the Dolphin is a family drama that will appeal to anyone who likes movies with the hard edges blunted and the narrative bumps smoothed. There's real heart to be found in the story but it comes along with borderline saccharine sentimentality, a too facile ending, and clean outcomes that aren't earned. The film's final scenes frustrate, not because bad things happen or subplots are left hanging but because there's a sense that the movie has cheated us by substituting a resolution of convenience instead of one of substance. Among its assets, Eye of the Dolphin counts wonderful photography (both above and below water) and an effective performance by leading actress Carly Schroeder. Tween and teen girls will identify with her and the character she plays, and this makes the movie targeted strongly at them. Older viewers who are hoping for something with more heft may be disappointed.

As the film opens, 14-year old Alyssa (Schroeder) is in full "rebellious teenager" mode. She is caught smoking a joint in the bathroom. This infraction, not her first, results in her expulsion from school. Her grandmother, Lucy (Katharine Ross), explains to the principal that Alyssa still hasn't gotten over her mother's recent death, but the man isn't sympathetic. Alyssa takes the expulsion in stride. She really doesn't care, as long as she's got her iPod to listen to. Lucy decides that her granddaughter needs a shock to her system, so she reveals a secret: Lucy's father, James Hawk (Adrian Dunbar), isn't dead, as her mother had told her. He's a live and working with dolphins in the Bahamas. And Lucy is going to visit him.

The movie traverses a familiar rode for this sort of film: the awkward meeting between strangers, the tentative attempts to breach a seemingly impenetrable wall, missteps leading to anger and animosity and, finally, redemption and reconciliation. The movie soft-peddles everything, never wanting either Alyssa or James to do anything that might cross a line and cause the audience to dislike them, if only for a moment. The problem with a movie like this is that when the complexity is stripped from the characters, it dilutes the conflict. There should be animosity and resentment here on both sides. Instead, we see only unsustained flashes of it.

Carly Schroeder is a promising young actress and 2007 is the year when she's getting a chance to show it. She has been in the spotlight for a while now, primarily as a result of her recurring role in Lizzie McGuire. With Eye of the Dolphin and Gracie, however, Schroeder shows she's capable of holding the camera's attention when her name tops the list of credits. She overcomes some weaknesses in the script to provide a likeable and engaging character. The rest of the cast boasts a strong pedigree - Adrian Dunbar is a respected veteran of stage, screen, and television; Katharine Ross is an Oscar nominee; and George Harris has achieved a mark of excellence in some circles by appearing in the Harry Potter movies.

Needless to say, the dolphins end up playing an important role in the proceedings, almost to the point where one can be forgiven thinking that this is their equivalent of Free Willy. For the purposes of this movie, the dolphins are (a) completely safe, (b) as smart as humans, and (c) capable of doing magical things. They are captured nicely on film by cinematographer Guy Livneh, whose camera does justice to the beauty of Grand Bahama Island. Some of the little shots - like one of a crab scuttling across a rock - are the most memorable and add color to the production.

In an act of inexplicable randomness, the MPAA has slapped this completely inoffensive motion picture with a PG-13 rating. I suppose it has to do with the fact that Alyssa smokes a joint at one time and gets drunk at another, but the scenes in question are less graphic than the entertainment news reports about Lindsay Lohan. There's no cursing, nudity, sex, violence, or much of anything else. Eye of the Dolphin is appropriate for young audiences. In fact, it's intended for them. The PG-13 is unwarranted because it's likely to lead potential viewers to believe the content to be more mature than it actually is. This is a squeaky clean family film that does enough things right to make it palatable but plays it safe too many times to be considered dramatically satisfying.

Eye of the Dolphin, The (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:43
U.S. Release Date: 2007-08-24
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Drugs)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1