Starring Jack Black, Steve Martin. Written by Howard Franklin from the book by Mark Obmascik. Directed by David Frankel. PG. 100 min. Opens Oct. 14.
Not since the heyday of the Swedish sex comedy has a movie featured quite as many shots of middle-aged men with binoculars as The Big Year. Mind you, the objects being spied upon here are birds in the literal sense of the word, rather than any more colloquial sense.
Liberally adapted from Mark Obmascik’s non-fiction book about the competition among American birders to spot as many species as they can during a calendar year, The Big Year introduces viewers to a unique subculture of people united by a common obsession. The man they most revere is Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson), the world-record holder who’s eager to preserve his status in birding circles. He faces a fierce battle from two very different men who are both enjoying their first stabs at the big-year ritual: Stu (Steve Martin), a wealthy businessman finally pursuing a long-postponed dream, and Brad (Jack Black), a chronic underachiever whose true talent lies in recognizing bird calls.
That the movie never invites ridicule for its fowl-mad characters is one of its most appealing traits, as is the deftness of the cast and the gorgeous scenery (B.C. and the Yukon stand in for a variety of U.S. sites). If only screenwriter Howard Franklin and director David Frankel weren’t so eager to mine this milieu for easy laughs and easier life lessons, The Big Year might’ve been a richer film, but it’s sufficiently amiable and sweet-tempered to get away with its broadest strokes.