When comedy geniuses Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson team up in a movie called “The Big Year,” hysterical deeds can be expected to unfold on the silver screen. Alas, “The Big Year” is far from hysterical. In fact, it isn’t even a comedy. It’s a movie about bird watching with a hint of humor that will leave most Martin, Wilson and Black fans unsatisfied.

The Big Year

At Quality 16 and Rave
Fox 2000

The annual Big Year competition involves its participants traveling the continent to spot as many birds as they can in one year. Kenny Bostick (Wilson, “Midnight in Paris”) is an obsessed birder who, in one Big Year, spotted a record-breaking 732 species. Having already won the competition last year, he’s out to break his own world record before someone else does, even if that means leaving behind a marriage on the rocks.

On the other hand, Stu Preissler (Martin, “It’s Complicated”) and Brad Harris (Black, “Tropic Thunder”) have never before had the guts to attempt a Big Year despite being passionate birders. They’re finally ready to make some life-changing decisions and leave the safety of their jobs to follow their passions. Preissler retires for the third time and Harris, who can’t hold on to anything for too long, sacrifices every penny he owns for the sake of winning the competition. These characters have everything to lose, from their families to their legacy, but they’re willing to risk it all to be the best birders in the world.

But “The Big Year” could have been so much more. Every time the film goes behind the scenes to give insight into the lives of these birders, we’re graced by some touching moments and some less so. When Bostick leaves his heartbroken wife at the hospital to go see a Snowy Owl, his obsession renders him pitiful rather than unlikable.

On the contrary, Harris is amiable and relatable because of his naivety and awkwardness around women. Harris’s victory dance when his crush breaks up with her boyfriend is one of the best moments of the movie. Steve Martin gives one of the most understated performances of his career as Preissler, but the script allows him to do nothing more. Regardless, Martin shines in every scene that gives him room to breathe.

What’s really pitiful, though, is the rarity of these meaningful scenes in a script that has almost no purpose. The worst part is that this movie had all the ingredients to a great recipe — the cast was underused but is flawless and the locations are astounding. Sadly, director David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada”) couldn’t decide whether he wanted to focus more on the birds or the birders. There is no way this movie could have been an outright comedy, but it could definitely have been a heart-warming dramedy. But it turned out as a confused compilation of occasional laughter-inducing scenes, some memorable moments and a whole lot of bird-watching.

The funniest line in “The Big Year” is actually its opening line — “This is a true story. Only the facts have been changed.” Everything that came after it, however, proved that someone should have retained the facts and made a documentary instead.

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