With Nathan Gamble, Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr., Kris Kristofferson. Written and directed by Charles Martin Smith. Rated PG for some mild thematic elements. 107 minutes.
Okay, DOLPHIN TALE 2 is not a very good film. In fact, it’s downright dull. However, we need to put it in context. It’s a safe-for-all-ages film (one of the “supporting” dolphins dies: parents of young ones take heed) which has enough interesting adult actors in the cast to keep parents awake. It’s not enough to redeem the film, but those seeking big-screen entertainment which the whole family can watch could do worse.
That is, of course, faint praise. The sequel to the 2011 film about Winter, the injured dolphin who gets a prosthetic tail and is befriended by Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble), it is inspired by a real life story. As the old saw has it, God writes lousy theater.
The government requires dolphins kept in captivity must be kept in pairs (for reasons never fully explained) and Winter has been “friends” with Panama. However Panama is very old–for a dolphin–and when the inevitable happens, Winter goes into a funk. This is a problem for Sawyer, a high school student with a gift for aquatic biology. In fact, a special Boston University program for college students invites one high school for a three-month project and they’ve selected Sawyer. Can he go at a time when Winter is feeling so abandoned?
Adults in the audience can easily anticipate where this is going, but younger viewers will be caught up in the story. An injured dolphin is brought to the facility where Winter lives. Might she be Winter’s new friend? Or are there reasons that Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.) is refusing to pair them? In the film’s most sophisticated subplot, Clay’s daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), furious at her father’s decisions, demands to be treated as a mature teenager with some sophisticated understanding of what’s at stake, and not as a child who can be dismissed. It would be nice to report this becomes a major theme of the film but, alas, it’s a minor subplot.
The film needs these subplots because the main storyline is so dull and predictable. Another one involves a cantankerous seagull concerned with the welfare of an injured sea turtle. Ultimately, this goes nowhere, but it does serve as a useful distraction. Instead, we look to the seasoned adult cast for some entertainment value, although that largely turns out to be a losing battle. Morgan Freeman returns as the cantankerous creator of Winter’s prosthetic. Ashley Judd is Nelson’s mom. Kris Kristofferson is Clay’s father. None of them save the film, but neither do they do anything to make it worse. They play their underwritten parts to the best of their abilities, and we’re glad they’re there.
Charles Martin Smith (who appears as the government agent threatening to remove Winter from the facility) wrote and directed. Clearly his priority was making a film safe for families to watch and in that he succeeded. Unfortunately,that’s all that “Dolphin Tale 2” is–a film safe for families. That’s no small achievement, but it’s nothing to write home about either. If you don’t have youngsters in tow, there’s no reason to waste any time with this.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.