Free Willy 3: The Rescue

Friday August 8, 1997

     It's time to set Willy, the orca whale, free once and for all. "Free Willy 3: The Rescue" is sparked by its two young stars, Jason James Richter and newcomer Vincent Berry. But it is otherwise dull and tedious, which is so often the case with films shot in Canada.
     Richter, who has starred in all three films, returns as Jesse, now 17. He has gotten a job for the summer tracking whales aboard a research vessel with his mentor Randolph (August Schellenberg, also reprising). The beautiful setting is the Northwest Pacific coast, where there has been a disturbing decline in the orca population.
     Meanwhile, 10-year-old Max (Berry) is going to sea for the first time with his father, John (Patrick Kilpatrick), captain of a salmon fishing boat. John's key source of income is from the illegal slaughter of whales for sale to countries where whale meat is considered a delicacy. So who should turn up in Botany Bay but Willy and his new mate?
     In his film debut, Berry is most impressive as a youngster torn between his love for his father and horror at his discovery of the illegal whaling. Richter is likewise effective as a youth on the edge of adulthood, struggling to be taken seriously by his elders and trying to persuade Max to help him save Willy, et al. Among the key adult characters, only John has dimension and an edge, a man enraged that the way in which his forebears supported themselves for generations is now against the law.
     Unfortunately, everyone else is blah. Sam Pillsbury's direction is so earnest he allows for no humor along the way and little suspense. But then writer John Mattson's script is not exactly inspired.
     The film's climactic sequence, while predictable, is unintentionally unsettling. While preservation of the orca whales and obeying the law are of paramount importance, "Free Willy 3" actually suggests that seriously endangering John's life is less important than saving the life of a whale--indeed, John, entrapped in rope netting, would surely have drowned had not Willy himself miraculously saved him.
     Would little Max really rather see his father die than Willy? You're left to wonder. What's more, you're also left wondering how John can support his family without resorting to illegal whaling.


Free Willy 3: The Rescue, 1997. PG, for thematic elements involving whale hunting and for brief mild language. A Warner Bros. presentation in association with Regency Enterprises. Director Sam Pillsbury. Producer Jennie Lew Tugend. Executive producers Lauren Shuler Donner, Richard Donner and Arnon Milchan. Writer John Mattson. Cinematographer Tobias Schliessler. Editor Margie Goodspeed. Costumes Maya Mani. Music Cliff Eidelman. Production designer Brent Thomas. Art director Douglasann Menchions. Set decorator Louise Roper. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. Jason James Richter as Jesse. August Schellenberg as Randolph Johnson. Vincent Berry as Max Wesley. Patrick Kilpatrick as John Wesley.

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