Two years ago, “Free Willy” turned into one of the sleeper hits of the summer. If nothing else, this formula family fare proved that when you run out of boy-meets-dog, boy-meets-horse and boy-meets-wolf with little left but the grim prospect of boy-meets-armadillo, an exercise in whale bonding is a promising alternative.
Now comes “Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home,” a movie with all the vitality of a beached whale. Jason James Richter returns as Jesse, the emotionally troubled kid who liberated the emotionally troubled Willy in “Free Willy.” His contented summer vacation with his foster parents is disrupted by the arrival of his half-brother, who is, of course, emotionally troubled and ripe for whale therapy. The boys’ natural mother has just died, but “Free Willy 2” is not the kind of film that can teach children about coping with loss or reach them on anything but the most superficial level.
About halfway through, when the screenwriter who was still awake decided that something ought to happen, the tanker with the dangerous single hull and singleminded captain hits a reef. Thanks to villains, “Free Willy” turns into the Big Spill, and Willy and his pals are soon slimed in oily gunk that threatens their survival.
xxxx “Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home” Credit: Directed by Dwight Little, starring Jason James Richter, Michael Madsen, August Schellenberg, Jayne Atkinson, Jon Tenney, Elizabeth Pena, Francis Capra, Mary Kate Schellhardt, Mykelti Williamson Rating: PG
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