EYE OF THE DOLPHIN — * 1/2 — Carly Schroeder, Adrian Dunbar, Katharine Ross; rated PG-13 (brief drugs, vulgarity, profanity)

The underwater parts of "Eye of the Dolphin" are kind of pretty. Unfortunately, the rest of this waterlogged drama is pretty ugly.

"Eye of the Dolphin" is a well-intended film that features a welcome ecological message, as well as some spectacular underwater photography. But the filmmakers haven't crafted a very original story here — and worse, the characters are pretty unlikable.

That's especially true of Alyssa, played by Carly Schroeder ("Gracie"). She's a sullen youngster who still hasn't recovered from the death of her mother. Alyssa's grandmother, Lucy (Katharine Ross), is at her wit's end and doesn't know what to do with the teen.

So she decides to take Alyssa to the Bahamas, to see the father she's never known, James Hawk (Adrian Dunbar). But this rather irresponsible dolphin researcher has no clue how to deal with a teenager — especially not Alyssa, who isn't exactly dazzled by her first impression of him.

However, she does befriend James' assistants and some of the local wildlife, including an orphaned dolphin.

The outcome of this tale is predictable, including a subplot about an overzealous developer (played by comic actress Jane Lynch). And the eventual melting of the icy father-daughter relationship is unconvincing.

It certainly doesn't help that Schroeder seems so tentative in her performance. She can't even commit enough to the role to darken her already-bleached-blonde hair (though she does wear eyeliner and dark fingernail polish).

So it's really no wonder that Dunbar looks bored most of the time. He doesn't have much to work with.

Also, while it's nice to see the missing-in-action Ross once again, her character pretty much fades away over the course of the film.

"Eye of the Dolphin" is rated PG-13 for brief drug content (marijuana use and references), some underage drinking, some suggestive language and scattered profanity. Running time: 101 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com