Bird-watching contest meets buddy comedy in a movie that never really takes wing.
You wonder what ideas they rejected before green lighting a movie about bird watching. Movies based on breakfast cereals? "Farmville 3D"? A history of dirigibles? Watching "The Big Year," a slovenly mix of nature movie and buddy comedy, you doubt that even the people making it enjoyed it. A better title would be "The Big Yawn."
Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Martin are utterly uninvolving as competitive birders in a three-way duel to record the most species sightings in a year. Wilson plays the reigning champ, a strutting peacock dressed in neon hues, with an equally vivid ego. Black is a sweetly earnest office drone with a perfect pitch for bird calls and Martin is a CEO abandoning the rat race for the bird race. Since their competition is a yearlong ramble across the United States with no physical finish line, you can't tell who's winning until the end. The bustle to reach each rare bird's habitat is literally all over the place.
The stars intersect at random with almost no give-and-take among the three men. As they zigzag from Alaska to Louisiana to Colorado, we're treated to pleasant Tourist Bureau panoramas (and a couple of rank-looking dumps) but scant entertainment.
In a misguided attempt to create female interest in this story of men in the woods with binoculars, three romantic/domestic subplots have been bolted onto the superstructure. Wilson's stay-at-home wife (Rosamund Pike) wants to conceive a baby, Martin's son and daughter-in-law deliver a grandchild, and Black pines for a fellow birder (elfin Rashida Jones). These mawkish run-free-or-settle-down dilemmas slow the film's negligible momentum to a crawl. If you carry any strong impression away from this unmemorable movie, it will be of Steve Martin's face, apparently paralyzed by a Botox overdose. I liked him better when he had movable eyebrows.