Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson, the bulk of the 50 United States plus a small chunk of B.C. and close to a thousand different species of birds — all in the span of two hours. Now doesn’t that sound like a fine equation for a motion picture? No?
Unfortunately, I agree.
Perhaps the reason the marketing department for The Big Year has dropped the ball on getting the word out there (few, if any, know what this movie is about) is because the synopsis just doesn’t sound like much of a firecracker. And I’m not knocking bird-watching in saying that. Birders (that’s what they like to be called, I’ve been told) love what they do, and justifiably so — you get to experience some of God’s most colourful creatures and do some majestic globetrotting at the same time.
But even diehard birders have to admit the activity doesn’t exactly set the table for adrenaline. Or laughs, if this comedy is any indication.
Too bad, really. Because The Big Year isn’t a terrible movie, only the sweet spots this story hits have nothing to do with birds or the trio of funny boys leading the charge. The moral is about seizing life while you can; taking a chance and doing something you’re passionate about. The Big Year gives us intermittent whiffs of that — but mostly, it parades around as a primarily dopey slapstick effort about three guys and a bunch of birds. There are moments, but not surprisingly, it never really takes flight.
The title of the film is the name of an unofficial annual competition in which birders compete to see the biggest number of separate species in a particular region over the course of one year. Returning champ Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) can’t stop himself from defending the title, even if it means pausing parenthood plans with his wife (Rosamund Pike). Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) is a retiring CEO that is simply thrilled to leave the rat race behind. And Brad Harris (Jack Black) is a down-on-his-luck 30-something office grunt who, despite being less than encouraged by his growly pop (Brian Dennehy), breaks the bank to compete for what he feels will finally mean something.
Is there good news here? Yep. The Big Year is an extremely gentle film, very safe and as casual as the pastime it follows.
Bad news? Well, for a comedy, it just isn’t funny. Adapted from a non-fiction book, during the opening credits of The Big Year we’re told that the story is true … except for the facts. It’s a very odd, somewhat amusing, mostly aimless statement. But at least it gives you an idea what you’re in for.
Out of a possible five stars, I’ll give The Big Year a two and a half. The feature is currently playing at the Pen-Mar Cinema Centre in Penticton.
Jason Armstrong is a movie reviewer living and watching in the Okanagan.