By Ken Tucker
Updated May 24, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

One reason the new feature film Flipper is better than the 1964-68 TV show Flipper: Fine young actor Elijah Wood (The War, North) plays the dolphin’s friend Sandy Ricks instead of wooden young TV actor Luke Halpin.

One reason the Flipper flick is worse than the TV show: Bland, mannered Paul ”Crocodile Dundee” Hogan plays Sandy’s uncle, Porter Ricks, instead of television’s wonderfully grumpy Brian Keith.

So, with the score for casting tied at 1-1, let’s go to the plot:

In the movie, Sandy is a sullen, sarcastic 14-year-old Chicagoan sent off to spend the summer on an unnamed tropical island with beach bum Uncle Porter. They’re destined not to get along. How do we know? Sandy likes the Red Hot Chili Peppers; Porter is a Beach Boys fan. Pretty soon, a smirky, snickering dolphin starts hanging around the Ricks’ end of the island. Recognizing a kindred interspecific smart aleck, Sandy befriends the bottle-nosed mammal, dubbing him Flipper. Sandy also befriends a lissome blond human, who is already dubbed Kim (newcomer Jessica Wesson).

Who’s the bad guy here? A rotten local sailor who gets his kicks shooting at dolphins with a rifle; he’s played by Jonathan Banks of TV’s Wiseguy. Flipper, Sandy, and Kim discover that this sentient piece of seaweed is also dumping toxic waste into the local waters. It’s up to our heroes to get the villain.

Now, remember the TV show? TV Sandy and his little brother, Bud, were always falling into the water, and Flipper would save them. Or some bad guy would be polluting the water, and Flipper would have to swim over and flip the guy into the water. So except for the lissome blond, no difference between the action in the TV show and in this movie, written and directed with utter humorlessness and sunburned lassitude by Alan Shapiro, whose place in cinema history is assured for introducing Alicia Silverstone to feature films with his The Crush.

So far, movie Flipper and TV Flipper are even. But here come the tiebreakers:

1. Toward the end, movie Flipper introduces a law-enforcement officer played by Isaac Hayes. Mr. Hot Buttered Soul in Flipper? Excellent!

2. Remember the TV show’s wimpy, singsongy theme (”They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning…”)? Well, the movie’s one burst of energy comes in a devilish reworked version by pop-rocker Matthew Sweet.

Movie Flipper wins, by a fin. C