Rated: PG Reviewed by: Jim Release date: October 14, 2011 Released by: Twentieth Century Fox
This new, supposedly sophisticated comedy (based on a fact-based novel) from David Frankel (Marley & Me) never really takes flight, and may be most embraced by devote members of the Audubon.
Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson are paired together for the first time in a The Big Year. Here, Martin's renowned big-businessman Stu seems to get the best of comedic cohorts in what strains to bring significance to grown men finding their inner "competitive" child in what appears to be a cousin to Rob Reiner's The Bucket List.
The supporting cast includes Angelica Huston (50/50), Brian Dennehy and Dianne Wiest as the parents of Black's character Brad, and Jo-Beth Williams as Stu's understanding wife, Edith.
The title gets its name from an honor-system contest The North American Big Year for its participants, including Brad, Stu, and Wilson's underhanded champ Kenny Bostick. These guys seem content on putting, family, friends and their professions on hold to be the "greatest birder in the world" - documenting the most species. Just for the pleasure of it without any prizes handed out for the pursuit of bird-watching excellence.
There are woodpeckers, egrets, gulls, scamps, teals, grosbeaks, flamingos, as well as an ink-footed goose, a vulture and red-tailed hawk to be spotted from Boston to Des Moines, the Everglades, Galveston, Yosemite National Park, and even Sarah Palin's native Alaska.
It's hard to sympathize for what tries in vain to meld wit and drama. A hardworking Stu doesn't mind gambling away what made him a CEO, willing to walk out on a business merger. A childish Brad backs off on a nuclear engineering opportunity using his credit cards and his parents (and bustling off to the airport after hooking up his ailing dad with oxygen). Kenny has a Houston winged migration fix that supersedes a little more than pillow talk with his beautiful misses.
Thus, what seems to be sharp work in the casting department and on paper is mostly down in the dumps, as Stu notices something amazing in the garbage. Some may be amused when a tainted scarf results in a distaff birder having a bad "Hitchcockian" moment as commented by Kenny. Others more so when Stu uses effusively earnest fowl qualities in a business maneuver.
Ultimately, the vanity compiled by this trio wins out with no reward for the viewer as a potential viable and likable romance never develops (in part because the trio aren't really together that much as well as the segueing to. When Brad, Kenny, and Stu do what they like to do it's hard to get interested and it's hard not to feel like the friendly rivals who've been let down by the unctuous Kenny.
The production has a certain visual travelogue placidness about it and the soundtrack with a tune or two being a diversion against the irresponsibility necessary for dreams. For a while it looks like the adapted script from Howard Franklin might have a chance to break out of its annoying boiled paralysis. Even with Martin (It's Complicated), Black (Kung Fu Panda 2) and Wilson (Midnight In Paris) prospering of late on screen, a sapsucker would choke on what Kenny calls Mozart.
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