Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff play two very earnest teens tending to an unhappy aquatic beast in "Dolphin Tale 2." Credit: Wilson Webb Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff play two very earnest teens tending to an unhappy aquatic beast in "Dolphin Tale 2."
Credit: Wilson Webb

 

‘Dolphin Tale 2’
Director: Charles Martin Smith
Stars: Harry Connick Jr., Nathan Gamble
Rating: PG
2 (out of 5) Globes

 

The new avant-garde film “Dolphin Tale 2” features the kind of experimental narrative you see in the films of Andy Warhol and the novels of Nicholson Baker. It’s a movie that brazenly abandons story almost entirely, instead offering viewers — that is, those adventurous enough to sit through it — a series of mild diversions. Some of these involve cute/funny animals, as well as the humans who do little but hang with them. It’s not what one would call a compelling tale worthy of a feature length movie. But therein lies its arty genius.

 

Of course, it might seem “Dolphin Tale 2” isn’t exactly necessary. The first “Dolphin Tale,” after all, was also an experiment in story-less cinema. It told the true story of a dolphin named Winter whose tail was injured; she needed a prosthetic replacement and she got one. The end. Much as Warhol once created a seven hour film that was a single shot of the Empire State Building, the radical filmmakers who made “Dolphin Tale” stretched this slim non-narrative over two hours. Not much happened and it took forever to get there — but that’s how it rolls with truly demanding avant-garde film.

 

A good chunk of "Dolphin Tale 2" is padded out with business about a wacky pelican hoping to mate (or something) with a sea turtle. Credit: Wilson Webb A good chunk of "Dolphin Tale 2" is padded out with business about a wacky pelican hoping to mate (or something) with a sea turtle.
Credit: Wilson Webb

And yet in many ways, “Dolphin Tale 2” is an even more extreme, punishing work — the kind of film, like Bela Tarr’s seven-hour “Satantango” or Michael Snow’s three-hour landscape survey “La Region Centrale,” that’s only for the truly patient and fearless viewer. You may have thought there was nothing more to say about Winter after she got a new, funky tail, and you’d be right. And yet reality went and offered up an even more slender coda that could be used as another Stretch Armstronged feature: Winter’s female friend at the aquarium/hospital in which she resides died. Alone, she needed another mate, which [not exactly a spoiler, as this is a true story] she got.

Now, if this was a normal, mainstream movie, the part where the biologists — led by Harry Connick Jr., in a performance so devoid of life that it’s a clear homage to the “mannequin” actors in the films of Robert Bresson — find a replacement would happen around the end of the first act. But this is experimental cinema, so it’s pushed off to around the 70-minute mark.

What took the characters so long to act? And more importantly, what happens in the film leading up to this — again — not very earthquaking “story”? It’s hard to say, even after having watched the film. There’s a subplot about a wacky pelican who’s in love with a turtle that takes up a lot of space. There are many, seemingly intentionally endless scenes of aquarium staffers hanging with Winter and remarking that she seems spooked — a development they’re in no visible rush to rectify. There’s even a seemingly unnecessary scene where a Vietnam veteran takes a peek at Winter, pointing out that he too is missing an appendage. Is the film really comparing a dolphin to someone who fought in a war? Of course not; that would be vaguely offensive. It’s just one of those nutty, surreal nonsequiturs — the kind of things you’d see in the work of David Lynch.

Ashley Judd, as in "The Identical," again plays a characters who's no more than "The Mom," while Morgan Freeman  barely even needed to reprise his "Dolphin Tale" character. Credit: Wilson Webb Ashley Judd, as in "The Identical," again plays a characters who's no more than "The Mom," while Morgan Freeman barely even needed to reprise his "Dolphin Tale" character.
Credit: Wilson Webb

Speaking of which, the film both “Dolphin Tale” movies are perhaps most reminiscent of is Lynch’s “The Straight Story.” Granted, that one featured a bit more plot: It found Richard Farnsworth driving a lawnmower across several states to meet his long-lost brother. But it too was less about story than a feeling of genuine decency and wholesomeness — a mood so extreme that watching them can seem like observing an alien species.

Like its predecessor, “Dolphin Tale 2” is concentrated niceness and genuinely sweet. Were this a normal movie to be watched by regular moviegoers, one would feel bad making fun of it. There is nothing offensive here, apart, maybe, from a bit where Morgan Freeman calls a teenage girl a piranha. You might wonder why Freeman returns, when his character's business was done in the first film and who here serves little particular narrative purpose. (You might also wonder why he only shares a too brief scene with Kris Kristofferson, who, like Freeman, boasts one of humanity's great voices. Not having them swap euphonious utterances at some length is "Dolphin Tale 2"'s one major flaw.) Then again, you would only wonder that were this intended for multiplex audiences or if it featured a strong story and events that make you wonder what happens next. Of course, being an uncompromising piece of experimental cinema,“Dolphin Tale 2" has neither.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge