THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Sunday, July 23, 1995 TAG: 9507250454 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E9 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Movie review SOURCE: BY MAL VINCENT, MOVIE CRITIC LENGTH: Medium: 97 lines
WHEN THE MUSIC swells to a crescendo and Willy leaps, you're supposed to get excited. After all, there's no leap like a Willy leap.
When he jumped to freedom in 1993's ``Free Willy,'' even the staunchest cynics amongst us cheered. We may have felt foolish on the way home - imagine getting personally involved with an orca whale! - but it worked while we were in the theater.
The movie took in $153 million at the box office and spawned at least a half-dozen imitations in which kids talk to varied species while adults are in the dark.
There is, however, a fundamental difference between ``Free Willy'' and ``Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home.'' The first movie was driven by emotion. The present one is obsessed, instead, with action.
``Willy 2'' has more plot, and more messages, than are comfortably dealt with in a single movie. We're told to restrict single-hull oil tankers from delicate environments. We're told to bond into workable families. We're told to respect other cultures, especially Native Americans. We're told to avoid oil slicks, support marine science and to be brave.
Gosh! And all we really wanted was to see Willy again!
Whenever Willy is on screen, things are OK. Otherwise, there are a lot of talking humans with problems. Phooey! Humans we can see any time.
Jason James Richter, a personable lad, is back as Jesse, Willy's best human friend. He's no longer the juvenile delinquent he was in the original movie, but he has new problems. His birth mother, a drug addict, has died and his half-brother, Elvis, shows up to share his adopted home. Jesse resents the feisty 8-year-old and can't easily adjust to the death of his mother, even though he has a good home with his adoptive parents, again played by Michael Madsen and Jayne Atkinson.
For once, the parents are not dullards. They are caring, intelligent beings (even if Madsen seems less wholesome after seeing him in the memorably gory ``Reservoir Dogs'').
Things improve when Jesse meets Willy again. Since he is 14, and since the producers would like to expand the audience, Jesse has his first kiss. There is also an underwater swim with little missy, the girlfriend, that makes the whole thing look like a bus and truck tour of ``The Blue Lagoon.''
Just as obtrusive is Michael Jackson warbling a self-pitying tune about his lost childhood, right in the middle of the movie. It gets unwanted snickers from the audience.
Meanwhile, back in the extensive plot, a tanker crashes in the Pacific and spews oil that threatens wildlife in general, and Willy's family in particular.
Elvis, as played by Francis Capra (who made his movie debut with Robert De Niro in ``A Bronx Tale''), is a rounder who lies regularly but, finally and predictably, becomes a nice kid. In the film's most unlikely scene, he runs off to another city and just happens to hear the villains planning to capture Willy.
Keiko, the whale used for some close-up scenes in the first film, has been replaced by animatronic creations, but it hardly shows. The only real whales are seen in long shots photographed as if they were in a National Geographic special.
Particularly promising, but unrealized, is the addition of Willy's family: his sister, Luna (who gets trapped in oil); his brother, Littlespot; and mother, Catspaw. Sadly, the members of Willy's family are not developed. Admittedly, the screenwriters, all three of them, had a challenge in trying to personalize the new beings.
There is an exciting finale that includes the swelling music of Basil Poledouris, who just happens also to have composed the music for ``The Blue Lagoon.'' Laszlo Kovacs' photography of the Pacific Northwest locations is particularly beautiful. Dwight Little, an action director, has taken over the project, and it shows. There is nothing like the emotional involvement that triggered the original film.
When there are movies like this, we think how wise was Steven Spielberg to just let us have our ``E.T.'' memories.
After all, how often can you free Willy? ILLUSTRATION: Photo
Mary Kate Schellhardt, Jason James Richter, and Francis Capra direct
Willy to jump in ``Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home.''
``Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home''
Cast: Jason James Richter, Francis Capra, Michael Madsen, August
Schellenberg, Jayne Atkinson
Director: Dwight Little
MPAA rating: PG (tense situation when Willy and family are
threatened, some questionable language but predominantly suitable
for fans of the first film)
Mal's rating: Two 1/2 stars
Locations: Chesapeake Square in Chesapeake; Janaf, Main Gate in
Norfolk; Kemps River, Lynnhaven 8 Pembroke, Surf-N-Sand in Virginia