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The Big Year

Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson make a not-so-funny comedy

Steve Martin (center), Jack Black (right) and Owen Wilson star in 'The Big Year'

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

(From left) Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson star in <i>The Big Year</i>.

Director: David Frankel
Rated: PG, Runtime: 100 mins.
Stars: Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Martin

En español  |  The Big Year is like no other movie I’ve ever seen, and not exactly in a good way. Let’s start with the premise: Three middle-aged males are so obsessed with bird-watching that they put their lives on hold for a year to participate in a little-known annual competition in which avian aficionados hop planes, trains, boats and helicopters; hike mountains; and slog through swamps to spot cranes, egrets, gulls, eagles, woodpeckers and all manner of rare flying things. The person with the most sightings in the contest known as a Big Year wins nothing except the sweet satisfaction of coming out on top. Men in competition at birding?  This, as you can see, is an unlikely formula for a would-be blockbuster.

But director David Frankel, of The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me, believes he has a secret weapon: a sophisticated comedic eye. For The Big Year, he assembles three all-star funny guys to take us on a great adventure. Steve Martin, as Stu Preissler, is a super-successful CEO on the verge of retirement who misses the birth of his first grandson to finally have a chance to pursue his hobby for a full year. Jack Black, as Brad Harris, is a nerdy, overweight divorced programmer living at home with his parents who abandons his dad, a heart patient on oxygen, to chase a snowy owl. And most pathetic of all is the successful contractor Kenny Bostick, played by Owen Wilson, who withdraws mid–sexual encounter with his lovely wife when he hears news of a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico that will bring with it a torrent of migrating wildlife. We’re to assume that this trio, in combo, will rain one-liners.

But they don’t. Frankel’s The Big Year, based on Mark Obmascik’s award-winning nonfiction book of the same name, is just not funny. And when it tries, on a more serious note, to convey a message about getting your priorities straight, it feels false.

We never begin to understand why the main characters are so fascinated with birds that they’re willing to trash just about everything else that’s important in life to look at them. Though we’re not supposed to like Wilson’s Kenny, who does everything short of cheating to retain his title as king-birder, we don’t find Martin’s Stu or Black’s Brad endearing either, though we’re supposed to. Despite a jaw-dropping supporting cast, including Anjelica Huston, Brian Dennehy and Dianne Wiest, there’s never the feeling that you’re really getting to know anyone here. And worse, despite a globetrotting production featuring more than 100 locations, there’s also never the feeling that you’re getting anywhere.

Even the birds in The Big Year aren’t so fascinating to look at. I’ll bet even Audubon-ers will be disappointed, and that says it all, I’m afraid.