Awfully Good: Flipper

It’s just a coincidence this week’s column coincides with the release of DOLPHIN TALE 2. I definitely didn’t do it on porpoise …

Flipper (1996)

Director: Alan Shapiro
Stars: Elijah Wood, Paul Hogan, Jonathan Banks

Crocodile Dundee and Elijah Wood befriend a dolphin and must save him from the evil clutches of Mike from “Breaking Bad.”

FLIPPER no doubt exists due to the popularity of the similarly-themed FREE WILLY, as well as the mid-1990s trend of turning old TV shows in to movies (THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE, SGT. BILKO, LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, etc.). It isn’t particularly good or terrible as a flick for kids, but it is enjoyable as a relic of the decade. For one, the love interest is played by Jessica Wesson, who you may recognize as a teenage love interest on both “Home Improvement” and “Boy Meets World.” We also constantly see Elijah Wood in a variety of random alternative rock t-shirts of the times, from the Smashing Pumpkins to Soul Asylum. The entire crux of the plot even revolves around a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert. Wood’s mom forces him to go live with his fisherman uncle in the Flordia Keys for the summer and the pre-teen is angry that he won’t be able to see Blood Sugar Sex Magik live. The turning point between the dysfunctional uncle and nephew comes when he agrees to take him to see the concert after all, and then the emotional climax happens when Wood decides to go save Flipper’s life instead of going to the show. I’m going to go check IMDB to make sure Anthony Kiedis and Flea weren’t producers on this movie.

Why yes, this is a picture of Frodo reading smut next to a pelican.

Ironically, the title character of the film doesn’t have as big a role to play. The dolphin sort of stalks Elijah Wood for no reason before we’re treated to a “best friends” montage between the two. Then Flipper is sort of just a background character without anything interesting to do for the remainder of his movie. Part of that could be the difficulty of filming with a live aquatic mammal. It’s clear most of the dolphin’s appearances are of an animatronic puppet, with assorted nature footage from other sources thrown in to cover it up. (That includes a random and rather disturbing scene of a hammerhead shark gruesomely attacking a seagull that will probably give children nightmares.)

That’s not product placement. THIS is product placement.

As for the humans, CROCODILE DUNDEE star Paul Hogan plays the uncle, Porter Ricks. This is all you need to know about Porter Ricks:
– He smokes cigars underwater
– He makes Elijah Wood do chores while smoking cigars and drinking beer
– He feeds beer to pelicans
– He washes dishes with his feet while showering
– He makes toast with a blow torch and lives off a literal lifetime supply of SpaghettiOs
– He can stab open a coconut with two fingers because he is a man
– He actually runs away when his girlfriend mentions the word “marriage”

Turns out there aren’t any half measures when it comes to fish either.

The other recognizable face in FLIPPER is the beautiful mug of Breaking Bad’s Jonathan Banks as the villainous Dirk Moran. (That’s right; this movie features characters named Porter Ricks and Dirk Moran and it’s not a gay porno.) Banks’ bad guy is sort of hilarious because he’s literally just some dude that really, really, seriously hates dolphins for no reason. As soon as he sees some in the water at the beginning of the film, he just pulls out a rifle and opens fire on them without warning. Later, when he learns that one survived and followed Elijah Wood home, he calls the sheriff (played randomly by Isaac Hayes) and has the dolphin evicted. Then he attempts to poison it with pesticides. It’s really like that South Park episode where the Japanese go around the world and inexplicably murder whales and dolphins.

Concrete evidence the AIR BUD franchise had finally jumped the dolphin.

Luckily Elijah Wood and friends are there to stop this atrocity. Uncle Porter’s marine biologist girlfriend has heard of a secret military project where the government trained dolphins to find things. She immediately assumes Flipper has this training and sends him off to comb the entire ocean for a barrel of pesticides and then come ring a bell when he’s done. They even attach a high-tech Flipper Cam (built by an 8 year old) to his head and of course Flipper instantly knows how to operate the camera and shoot perfectly framed footage of the ocean floor.

No matter how hard he tries, Elijah Wood can never escape the legions of NORTH fangirls.

In the end, Flipper must face off against both Banks and a legendary hammerhead shark named Scar. But this time he’s not alone! Flipper brings along a bunch of other dolphins and together they head butt the shark in to submission. Then, having acquired a taste for vengeance, Flipper attacks Jonathan Banks and knocks him in to the ocean. Because he’s a fisherman and can’t swim, he immediately surrenders upon hitting the water. Way to go, Flipper!

Elijah Wood smokes and drinks, while Paul Hogan gives some sage advice and intimidates Mike from “Breaking Bad.”

Paul Hogan is a badass uncle and Flipper is an asshole. BONUS: Dolphin vs. Shark!

Prepare to go down under with Paul Hogan in the shower.

Free mahi mahi! Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • Elijah Wood is wearing a different band shirt
  • Paul Hogan does something wacky and Australian
  • Nature footage is featured that was clearly not filmed for this movie
  • A relic of the 1990s appears (i.e. an original Game Boy)
  • A random environmental message is shoehorned in

Double shot if:

  • Flipper knocks somebody in to the water

Thanks to Tara for suggesting this week’s movie!

Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email or follow him on Twitter and give him an excuse to drink.


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