Review in a Hurry: After movies featuring a dog (Marley & Me) and a bitch (The Devil Wears Prada), director David Frankel turns his eye to the sky with this uneven adventure about birds and fanatical birders—don't call them "bird watchers"! Considering the high-flying talent attached, The Big Year is a big letdown.
The Bigger Picture: An opening title card claims The Big Year is based on a true story…just the facts have been changed. It's a funny line, but it also highlights the movie's identity problem. What exactly is this story of three men pursuing their dream to be the world's greatest birder? A wacky chase comedy like Rat Race? A wistful Bucket List bromance? A Disney Nature docudrama? About mid-flight, you'll stop caring where this odd-bird tale migrates next.
The "Big Year" is a contest to see who can spot the most species of birds in North America during one calendar year. Contractor Kenny (Owen Wilson) is the reigning champ, but as he tries to protect his title, two other birders are hot on his tail feathers. Stu (Steve Martin) abandons his lucrative CEO position and understanding wife to challenge Kenny's record. And computer programmer Brad (Jack Black) racks up massive debt as he joins his competitors in the cross-continent trot via planes, copters, cars, boats, etc.
When cocky Kenny resorts to tricks to keep his crown, Stu and Brad team up against him. These man-child rivals become so obsessed that they even ditch an ailing parent and randy wife to pursue winged wildlife, which just makes us like their characters less.
The three leads land a few laughs, but the fine cast and Frankel—for all his sweeping shots and soaring music—can't get any lift on the material, which is grounded by tedium and repetition. Again and again, the intrepid trio get a call that some rare, spotted whatever has been seen off the coast of wherever, and away they go in mad pursuit, as their wives/parents/coworkers squawk in frustration.
It's enough to make you cry fowl.
The 180—a Second Opinion: There's plenty of interesting bird info and imagery, so all you ornithological types (you know who you are!) should flock to watch.