Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson form "a comic dream team" (Jeff Craig, Sixty Second Preview) in this smart, funny comedy from the director of The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me. Looking to shake up their routine lives, three amateur bird watchers compete to become the ultimate "birder" by spotting the greatest number of species within a single calendar year. But the friendly rivalry soon turns into a hilariously complicated cross-country adventure as each man begins to realize that the quest for success comes at a price - and that's not chicken feed!
Never get between a birder and a Pink-footed Goose. As we learn from The Big Year
, the intensity of birders (the term birdwatcher
is dismissed here as insufficiently committed) is not to be taken lightly, and their quest of rare species creates the gentle comedy of this film, which is based on a real phenomenon. In the world of birders, there's a goal set each calendar year, and based on the honor system: who can spot the most varieties of our feathered friends? All-time champ Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) is a legendary name in the birding game, and this year he's trying to beat his own record--but retired CEO Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) and slovenly upstart Brad Harris (Jack Black) are determined to topple the colorful and ruthless Bostick from his, er, perch. The movie's at its best when charting the movements of these obsessed enthusiasts in the wild, as they scramble from Alaska to Arizona to New Jersey in pursuit of their goal; it's less successful at trying to create human interest in the home lives of these guys. And despite the comedic talents of the main threesome, nobody really stands out; each plays to his usual persona without adding a new wrinkle. Director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada
) has a weirdly overqualified supporting cast on his hands, but except for Rosamund Pike as Bostick's neglected wife and Rashida Jones as a geeky birder, most of these folks flit by with little to do: Brian Dennehy and Dianne Wiest as Brad's parents, Anjelica Huston as a salty sea captain, Tim Blake Nelson as an awestruck birder. It's easy enough to enjoy this film for its offbeat subject and mild-mannered tone, even if there isn't anything terribly distinctive about it. --Robert Horton