The Big Year

High-profile cast can't overcome middling story

Oct 15, 2011 at 8:14 am
click to enlarge (L-R) Owen Wilson, Steve Martin and Jack Black in 'The Big Year'
(L-R) Owen Wilson, Steve Martin and Jack Black in 'The Big Year'

Director David Frankel takes a story of single-minded pursuit and squeezes it into a convenient package — albeit one that doesn't feel as though it has all that much to do with the subject at hand. Inspired by Mark Obmascik's fascinating nonfiction book, The Big Year follows three avid birders trying to identify the most individual bird species in North America over the course of one calendar year: divorced computer programmer Brad Harris (Jack Black); wealthy soon-to-retire businessman Stu Preissler (Steve Martin); and relentless "Big Year" record-holder Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson).

Frankel and screenwriter Howard Franklin maintain a generally breezy tone, following the trio as they follow tips to their various geographical stopovers, as well as the effects of their activities on their personal relationships. But that breeziness doesn't leave much room for the edge that should exist in a story about obsession, and the lengths to which people go for "because it's there" achievement with no tangible reward. For all the satisfying comic moments, The Big Year buries most of what's distinctive about its milieu under gentle moralizing about realizing (or not) what really matters. Grade: C

Opens wide Oct. 14.