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Low stakes undermine mediocre 'Dolphin Tale' sequel
Dolphin Tale
Nathan Gamble as Sawyer Nelson and Cozi Zuehlsdorff as Hazel Haskett with Winter as herself in Alcon Entertainment's family adventure "Dolphin Tale 2," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. - photo by Wilson Webb, Alcon Entertainment

Dolphin Tale 2” is a harmless, family-friendly film that offers a few nice moments but lacks the follow-through to make you remember it a week after you watch it. In other words, it’s a telling example of the state of September 2014 cinema.

“Dolphin Tale 2” takes us back to the lives of a teenage boy named Sawyer and a dolphin named Winter who uses a prosthetic tail to swim.

The first film in 2011 told the story of how Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) rescued Winter from a crab trap and bonded with her as they sought out a solution to her handicap. Three years later, Winter is a featured attraction at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which started out as a rescue hospital but has morphed into a distant cousin to Sea World. Sawyer is hard at work in his newfound home, tending to Winter and giving presentations to visitors.

Everything is wonderful, and then it isn’t. Winter’s partner dolphin Panama dies, and Winter gets depressed. Sawyer gets a scholarship offer to an exclusive semester at sea program that threatens to separate him from his flippered friend. Dr. Haskett, (Harry Connick Jr.), the head administrator at Clearwater, must find a replacement for Panama or risk losing Winter to a marine park in Texas.

Haskett’s teenage daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) is also getting jealous of the attention Sawyer is getting from some of the female volunteers, but that’s just one example of a variety of subplots “Dolphin Tale 2” tries to cram into its narrative without fleshing any of them out.

Other familiar faces from the first film return to the sequel as well. Morgan Freeman is around for just enough scenes to justify his billing as prosthetic dolphin tail mastermind Dr. Cameron McCarthy, Ashley Judd is back as Sawyer’s mom, Lorraine, and a wispy, silver-haired Kris Kristofferson returns as Hazel’s grandfather Reed, providing a bizarre doppleganger for the wispy, silver-haired Richard Branson clone who owns the aquarium (Tom Nowicki).

There’s also some supporting comic relief from a pelican named Roofus, who often leaves you thinking a movie about his life might be a bit more engaging.

Again, “Dolphin Tale 2” isn’t a bad movie; it’s just a ho-hum one.

When your worst-case scenario is transferring from one marine facility to another, and when your heavy is Charles Martin Smith in a USDA ball cap with a clipboard, you know the stakes are pretty low. This is really just a movie about the challenges of growing up, or at least it should be. No one really expects a film like “Dolphin Tale 2” to bring a gripping plot to the table, but the failure to dig into any potential conflict keeps the final product firmly in the dregs of mediocrity.

Though the film tries to mine its cinematic medium with some underwater cinematography, there’s just not enough here to justify paying for the full-price theater experience. “Dolphin Tale 2” is a step above direct-to-video quality, but it’s probably best suited for a family night in when everyone’s burned out on the old standbys.

“Dolphin Tale 2” is rated PG for some mild thematic elements.

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