DVD Release Date: January 31, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: October 14, 2011
Rating: PG (for language and some sensuality)
Genre: Comedy
Run Time: 90 min.
Director: David Frankel
Actors: Jack Black, Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, Rosamund Pike, Dianne Wiest, JoBeth Williams, Kevin Pollack, Joel McHale, Anjelica Huston, Rashida Jones

A movie about birding sounds rather boring: Who wants to watch people watching birds? But a movie about birding starring Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson? Now that shows more promise. Surely anything with those three should be hilarious and worth watching.

Promises, promises.

The Big Year, starring the three above-mentioned comedians as well as a stellar supporting cast, squanders its stars and settles for sentiment and stale relationship drama. It’s also shockingly devoid of big laughs.

That’s frustrating, because in an age of crude sexual comedies, a gentler, wittier approach to situations with comedic potential could have satisfied a large audience segment underserved by current cinematic offerings. Instead, The Big Year rarely approaches witty; it’s mostly flat and uninspired. One wonders what the cast members saw in the screenplay from Howard Franklin, who once wrote a bizarre, darkly funny Bill Murray film titled Quick Change. Here there’s nothing dark or bizarre, and very little subtext—everything is on the surface, but none of it is interesting.

Kenny Bostik (Owen Wilson, Cars 2) is the reigning champ of a year-long contest of who can see the most bird species. Contestants drop everything to participate in the “Big Year” competition: They travel to locations where unique weather phenomena gather thousands of birds in one spot, or they chase after the one bird species that has always eluded them—a pink-footed something or other, a snowy-looking owl, etc.

Kenny is so determined to retain his title as Big Year champion that he leaves his wife behind to pursue fertility treatments on her own. Sulking over Kenny’s prolonged absence, she strikes back by renovating their home. It’s a stock marital dispute, made tolerable only by the presence of Rosamund Pike (An Education) in the role of Kenny’s wife.

More supportive is the wife of business magnate Stu Preissler (Steve Martin, It’s Complicated). She wants Stu to pursue his passion, but Stu’s employees want him to stick closer to home. His company is on the verge of a major transaction, and Stu’s guiding hand is needed in the office more than ever. But that’s not enough reason for Stu to stick around. His company, the livelihoods of his employees—nothing matters as much as Stu’s Big Year. So Stu leaves his co-workers (Kevin Pollack, Joel McHale) in the lurch over and over again, racing to see whatever bird has previously eluded him.