Not since The Beverly Hillbillies’ Miss Jane has there been such a bird crazy character. “The Big Year,” a new comedy starring the tryptic of comics Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson, is based on a true story of birders trying to break a world record.
“This is a true story,” the opening credit reads. “Only the facts have been changed.” Wilson is Bostick, the world’s best birder (they don’t like being called bird watchers). He is the king of The Big Year, an annual competition to see the greatest amount of birds in North America in a calendar year. There’s no prize other than bragging rights, but, jokes Brad Harris (Jack Black), “the bird seed endorsements are huge.” The film follows Bostick and the efforts of two newcomers to the Big Year, Stu (Martin), a wealthy CEO who is finally taking time to smell the roses and look at the birds, and Harris, an unhappy office grunt who loves anything that flies, as they vie for the top spot.
Whether or not audiences will migrate to “The Big Year” depends on their tolerance for a soundtrack stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with bird songs like a jazz version of “Blackbird,” and the trio of leading men.
Each plays to his strength. Black provides the slapstick, martin is the silver haired charmer and Wilson plays the edgy jerk he’s perfected in movies like “Drillbit Taylor.” The three different styles work well together even though nothing about it really feels fresh. Despite its subject it never really takes flight. There’s a more ripple of giggles throughout but the big laughs are fewer and further between. Surely some Blue Footed Booby jokes could have spiced things up just a bit.
Having said that, “The Big Year” is enjoyable enough, particularly if you like footage of our fine feathered friends. The final third tugs at the heart strings when it becomes more about the characters than their birding obsession. Not really memorable, but at least it’s not another installment of Martin’s dreadful Inspector Clouseau series.