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The Big Year

In the last few months, moviegoers have been bombarded with sports stories. Since August, we’ve watched Seven Days in Utopia, a spiritual golf movie, Moneyball, an underdog story about a ragtag group of baseball players, Warrior, a mixed martial arts film about family, Real Steel, the robot form of Warrior, and Senna, the terrific documentary about the life and death of the greatest Formula One racecar driver to ever get behind a wheel. Now film fans have the chance to watch three men compete in the exciting world of…bird watching?

The Big Year follows Brad (Jack Black), Kenny (Owen Wilson) and Stu (Steve Martin) as they compete in something called “The Big Year” (natch), a competition to see who can spot the greatest number of species of birds in one calendar year. It’s as exciting as it sounds. There’s more to it than that, though, like Kenny’s unhappy wife who just wants him to stay home and Brad’s disapproving father who urges him to give up his silly hobby and work, but they are merely forced drama seeking profundity. They, of course, don’t reach it and instead only serve to make an already dumb movie dumber.

But its biggest pratfall isn’t from its failed drama. Nobody goes to see a movie with Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Steve Martin to cry. The Big Year instead suffers from comedic emptiness. One can only assume the script read better than it plays because this is as excruciatingly unfunny a comedy as has come out all year, perhaps even in the last several. The crowd at my screening was eerily silent, which isn’t always an indication of the film’s quality, but it sure was this time. When you can’t even make the audience who were excited enough to show up to a pre-screening laugh, you’ve got problems.

The three talented stars give it their all, but it’s certainly not enough. All three are funniest at their wildest, but are subdued by a tame PG rating. Black, in particular, is never allowed to let loose. His crazy antics that have worked so well in things like School of Rock and Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny (and even Gulliver’s Travels to a degree—he made that movie tolerable) are nowhere to be seen. The film has a grand total of one earned laugh.

To be fair, this is about as interesting a movie about bird watching as I can possibly imagine, but the subject holds interest to only a select few people. If every bird watching enthusiast in the world showed up to watch it, my guess is the box office intake would still be chump change compared to the usual. The Big Year has the occasional moment of beauty, like a wonderful shot of two eagles free-falling with their talons locked in embrace during a mating ritual, but they only make the rest of the movie look that much worse. Even at just over an hour and a half, this movie is sluggish, overlong and tedious. It’s inoffensive, but even family friendly material can be unwatchable.

The Big Year receives 0.5/5

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