Judge Patrick Naugle has suffered from Ornithophobia since a bad experience at Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room.
Our review of The Big Year, published February 9th, 2012, is also available.
A new way to "tweet."
Have you ever stared out your window, looked at some of God's most beautiful winged creatures, and thought "This is great and all, but what I'd really like to see is a movie about bird watching!" If so, your day has come. Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson star in The Big Year, now available on Blu-ray.
Facts of the Case
There is a North American competition most people don't know about: bird watching. The goal is to see who can spot the most birds in a single year. The Big Year focuses on three such competitors: reigning champ Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson, Bottle Rocket), CEO turned bird watcher Stu Preissler (Steve Martin, Bringing Down the House), and divorcee Brad Harris (Jack Black, School of Rock). Over the course of 365 days, each man will slowly learn what it means to win and lose—professionally and personally—as they climb ever higher, attempting to become the number one bird watcher in the country.
The Big Year is a comedy on auto pilot. It jumps around from scene to scene of people watching birds, having personal issues, watching birds, more personal issues, and more birds. The Big Year feels less like a movie and more like a schizophrenic soap opera that just happens to feature binoculars and pigeons.
I'd like to think any subject can be made into an interesting movie, but maybe not bird watching. Oh, sure…possibly, if it was done with such zany zeal the bird watching came secondary to the comedy. But that's a big IF. Sadly, The Big Year is not that movie. I was oddly detached while watching the story fly into action (if that's what you want to call it) then just sort of sputter around looking for a place to land. While it goes a lot of places (at least the characters do, physically traveling the globe), the movie itself never takes flight (pun obviously intended).
The laughs are light to the point of being almost non-existent. In fact, I don't think there was a moment when I laughed out loud. Not once. Oddly, the best part of this comedy is the dramatic relationship between Brad and his father (Brian Dennehey) who learns to accept and embrace his son's odd hobby. When the somber beats are the most interesting parts of a comedy, you know you're in trouble.
Sitting through the The Big Year isn't excruciating so much as it is grossly disappointing; so much talent and money wasted on sub-par storytelling and deathly uninteresting characters. I wish Steve Martin would go back to doing some really creative comedy. Here he's just cashing a paycheck. Martin injects his character with just enough personality to make him passably interesting. Jack Black plays a variation on the Jack Black persona we've all come to expect; an out of work schlub who falls down a lot. I'd complain about the physical comedy but, in a movie about bird watching, any slapstick is a welcome reprieve. Owen Wilson couldn't disappear into a character if he was Harry Houdini; though he a fun actor, it would be nice if he'd stretch and do something other than the same character we've seen dozens of times before. Wilson's Kenny is supposed to be the antagonist, but since none of these people are "bad guys," he comes off as a genial slacker who's sort of a prick. The chemistry between these actors is zero. They all seem to be waiting for the shoot to end so they can move onto other projects.
If you don't care for the leads, there are a lot of cameos. Rashinda Jones (I Love You, Man), Steven Weber (Sour Grapes), Jim Parsons (The Muppets), Angelica Huston (50/50), Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), Dianne Weist (Little Man Tate), Brian Dennehy (Tommy Boy)…so many famous faces signifying nothing. They float in and out of the film, as if on parade. None of them are memorable, save for Angelica Huston (Smash) as a salty boat captain, the last role you'd expect to see the her play (actually, I'd loved to see a spinoff of this character). What prompted these actors to sign onto this project? The end product provides no clues.
The Big Year (Blu-ray) is presented as a very attractive looking 2.35:1/1080p high definition widescreen transfer. There are a lot of colors on display and the image features fine detail and depth. Even though I wasn't crazy about the movie, the scenery is stunning to look at. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is often a front heavy with many moments of ambient sound and bouncy music cues. Also included are English and Spanish subtitles, as well as French and Spanish language tracks.
Bonus features are few: a nearly twenty minute featurette on the making of the film ("The Big Migration"), some deleted scenes, a short gag reel, a theatrical trailer, and the requisite DVD and Digital copies.
I wanted to like The Big Year; I truly did. I told my editor this was one of the hardest reviews I've had to write in a long time, because it's as bland as communion wafers and just as substantial. Do yourself a favor and check out something—anything—else. In the meantime, let's hope this is the last bird watching movie Hollywood ever attempts.
Talk about a movie with its wings clipped. Guilty!
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