July 14, 1997 12:00 PM

Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Devon Sawa, Scott Bairstow

Could it be mere coincidence that the three brothers who are the heroes of this movie are named Stouffer and that the film is full of stuffing? We’re not talking the kind of stuffing that you gobble down at Thanksgiving, but rather extraneous, time-wasting subplots.

Wild America tells the more-or-less true story of the Stouffer brothers, three adventurous lads who, in the late ’60s as teenagers (the film never specifies their ages, but they seem to be 12, 16 and 18), head across the country with a used movie camera to film wild animals, primarily predators, in their natural habitats. “People want to see ’em before they get killed off,” reasons Thomas (Home Improvement), the youngest of the trio. The boys hope to get their footage on TV, which the eldest, Marty Stouffer, eventually does (PBS’s Wild America, 1982). Indeed, in real life, all three brothers are now nature documentarians.

If their big trip were all the movie was about, Wild America would be an appealing family film, albeit with a few too many—for small fry—close-ups of growling bears. Unfortunately, however, dopey subplots abound: There’s the injured owl, the boys’ curmudgeonly father’s (Jamey Sheridan) own limited dreams, and fixing up an old airplane. Enough already.(PG)

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