I was once reading a book about the backstage goings-on of Saturday Night Live and I came across the story of how Damon Wayans was fired from the show for deliberately sabotaging a sketch by creating an off-the-wall character that did not exist until he decided to invent it during the live show. I kept thinking about that while watching Eye of the Dolphin, a Tribeca kiddie film about a teenage girl who lives with her grandma, gets in trouble in school, and is packed off to live with her marine biologist father in the Bahamas. The father is played by Irish actor Adrian Dunbar, and I'd be willing to watch an entire documentary on the making of this film just to know what he was thinking -- his performance borders on sabotage, it's so off-the-mark. To start with, the character is supposed to be an American, but there are passages in the film when he speaks with a completely transparent Irish brogue. He also maintains an insanely out-of-place perma-scowl, so that during many scenes that are supposed to be upbeat, he appears inexplicably pissed off.
I can't recommend Dolphin to general audiences, since it's a terrible film, but I would probably recommend it to my friends for comedy purposes. Aside from Dunbar's crazy performance, the film itself is a treasure trove of enough absurd moments to push it firmly into the 'bad-good' zone. It feels exactly like some film student's fourth year film, which they intended to be a professional-looking, passing-grade romantic comedy/kiddie adventure, but which is, in fact, painfully inadequate in ways they haven't even anticipated. The young woman the film centers around, Alyssa, is played by Carly Schroeder, who has some acting experience in the kid's show Lizzie McGuire and the movie the show was based off of. I wouldn't say she gives a bad performance in this film, but the whole picture is so absurd and unfocused itself that there's no way to tell either way. We're talking about a movie where an angry, rebellious teen moves to the Bahamas and discovers that she has talent as a Dolphin Whisperer.
Katherine Ross, who you may remember from The Graduate and ... well, from The Graduate, plays Alyssa's grandmother, who carts her off to live with her father after she's caught smoking pot in a school bathroom. I have to wonder if the director noticed that Ross seems to have a hearing problem, because she enunciates every line of her dialogue in the film as if she's reading the script off an eye-chart, pronouncing each syllable loudly and clearly in the most annoying way possible. Meanwhile, down in the Bahamas, Dunbar's dad character doesn't even know that he has a daughter, since the mother never told him. He works with dolphins, and is doing some kind of research that will prove that dolphins are super-intelligent, or something. He has to constantly battle the local town council, who want to turn his research-dolphins into public-attraction-dolphins, to draw in tourists. This idea makes him even angrier than he normally is, and there are a couple of hilarious scenes where he goes ape on his bosses.
By going to the Bahamas, Alyssa is only trading in her annoying grandmother for a father who is certifiable. Alyssa and granny first meet up with dad in a Bahama bar, and let me just say that Dunbar's "drunk character" has to be seen to be believed. First year acting students laugh at this guy. After Alyssa reveals to him that she is his daughter, he at first wants nothing to do with her, spouting off that he doesn't want some "screwed up 14-year old" -- nice parenting -- and then when that doesn't work, he inexplicably begins playing little head games with the poor girl. He insists on angrily referring to her iPod as "your little jukebox." He does this more than once, for reasons I can't imagine, but I think I would have crammed it down his throat after the second time he sneered at me and called it that. Meanwhile, there's a scene when he has to show up to give a big presentation on his dolphin theories at work, and he turns up wearing what looked like a hobo suit. Again, no explanation.
You want me to go on? Dad has a Bahamanian girlfriend who can apparently see clearly underwater without goggles, since she dives for conch without them, successfully. There's also a bizarre racial angle to the film -- the Bahamanian girlfriend at one point tells 14-year old Alyssa that she is a "Conchy Jane" and then explains that this is some kind of pet name that she gives to white people in the Bahamas. Also, by that point, we've learned that Alyssa may be able to save her dad's research because dolphins are in fact super-intelligent, but they only communicate with people like her, who are pure of heart. Once Alyssa and her dad have made the big breakthrough and learned how to communicate with dolphins, the idea is that the corporate baddies who want to build a mini-Sea World will see their mistake and slink away, unnoticed. That's the story, in a nutshell. I should also mention that somewhere in there, there are some lovely shots of a muscular stuntwoman in a white wig being pulled by a dolphin underwater -- I'm pretty sure that's supposed to be blonde, teenage Alyssa, swimming with the dolphins.