Directed by William Dear ("Angels in the Outfield"), the Warner Bros. wide release stars the dynamic trio of Jonathan Taylor Thomas ("The Adventures of Pinocchio", TV's "Home Improvement"), Devon Sawa ("Casper") and Scott Bairstow ("White Fang 2") as real-life brothers who spend a summer traveling around the country with a 16mm camera.
Budding naturalists in search of endangered species, a legendary cave filled with sleeping bears and an escape from unadventuresome lives in Fort Smith, Ark., the three Stouffer boys -- Marshall Thomas), Mark (Sawa) and Marty (Bairstow) -- are decent but full of mischief. The leader of the group, narratively speaking, is the youngest shutterbug Marshall, who is often the subject of filmed stunts and other pranks by his competitive older bros.
With an amiable voice-over, the episodic scenario penned by playwright David Michael Wieger in his feature debut stays true to the mid-1960s rural south milieu. Barely touching on the political and cultural turmoil of the times, there is little romance, no references to "Star Trek" and no sporting activities except leader Mark and rebel Marty's inventive ways of putting daredevil Marshall in harm's way.
Their parents are sturdy salt-of-the-earth types, with Marty Sr. (Jamie Sheridan) running a carburetor shop and promising would-be flyer Marshall that one day he'll restore a World War II training plane. Dad, of course, wants his oldest to take over the family business someday, but when the trio of amateur filmmakers is given a professional camera they embark on a mission worthy of the ensemble war movies of the era.
Along with the predictable generational friction caused by pursuing a risky dream come such conventional maneuvers as Marshall stowing away and then winning approval from all concerned for the central road journey the brothers take to national parks and relatively far-flung locales. Encounters with gators, moose, snakes, bears, wild horses and a pair of English hippie girls await them.
Including Frances Fisher as the boys' protective but supportive mom, the performances are sturdy throughout, with the headliners achieving a winning chemistry.
A fun running gambit has Thomas' character devising ways to secretly get back at his brothers with befouled toothbrushes and canteens.
Even with co-producer Mark Stouffer on board, the film has a few unbelievable moments, but it's an entertaining and amiably paced tall tale. Evocatively filmed in wide-screen by David Burr ("The Phantom"), the production overall is first-rate. A special merit badge to animal trainer Senia Phillips for the many splendid scenes with tame and threatening creatures.
James G. Robinson presents
a Morgan Creek production
in association with the Steve Tisch Company
A William Dear film
Director William Dear
Prodcuers James G. Robinson, Irby Smith,
Writer David Michael Wieger
Executive producers Gary Barber, Steve Tisch,
Bill Todman Jr.
Director of photography David Burr
Production designer Steven Jordan
Editor O. Nicholas Brown
Music Joel McNeely
Costume designer Mary McLeod
Casting Pam Dixon Mickelson
Marshall Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Mark Devon Sawa
Marty Scott Bairstow
Agnes Frances Fisher
Marty Sr. Jamie Sheridan
Running time -- 107 minutes
MPAA rating: PG
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