The Big Year: Not Big And Not Clever

THE BIG YEAR (PG): On General Release Friday 2nd December

Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Steve Martin star as three competitive birdwatchers who scour the length and breadth of North America to see who can spot the most number of birds in a year.  With three such comedy leads, you’d expect to be rolling in the aisles but The Big Year is so mild, so tastelessly insipid that any genuine comedy is rarer than a sighting of a pink-legged goose.

The Big Year sees reigning champion Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) defend his title against semi-retired high-flying businessman Stu (Steve Martin) and divorced bird nerd Brad (Jack Black).  But here the focus is on human obsession and sacrifice and as the competition starts to hot up all three of them are forced to re-evaluate their priorities.

As Bostick tries to hang on to his title, he risks neglecting his wife (Rosamund Pike) who’s desperate to get a family started.  Meanwhile, Brad’s father is getting increasingly frustrated by his son’s seeming failure to do anything meaningful with his life.   On the other hand, Stu’s family are completely supportive but his wings are constantly clipped by his corporate commitments.

It’s hardly the most scintillating subject to make a movie about but underneath dull subject matter can lie a whole gamut of seething human emotion.  Sadly, The Big Year is not that movie.  Sure the three are competitive and chummy but there’s no drama and no plot, just endless shots of Jack Black hearing the call of a rare bird in the distance and running off to find it and Steve Martin missing his plane.

It’s not even about the journey as their frequent forays to some far flung island are interrupted by them pacing around at home and without a definitive end-goal in sight, the cinema’s armrests start to become more interesting.  It’s also criminally unfunny – there are simply no jokes, no laughs, not one solitary giggle.

Quite what attracted such a good cast is baffling.  Does the director have a particularly good lure?  Rosamund Pike is totally wasted as a frustrated housewife; Rashida Jones is appalling underused as a two-dimensional love interest and quite what the likes of Dianne Wiest, Brian Dennehy, Anjelica Huston and Kevin Pollack are doing in this is a total mystery.

It’s actually so mild, so infinitely dull that it actually becomes borderline offensive. It’s not mild like fragrance-free hand cream is mild but mild in the way that Babybel is – bland, rubbery and a waste of time.  But at least with Babybel, you can mould the wax into a handy ball to lob at someone you don’t like; there’s absolutely no point to The Big Year at all.

Follow Jez Sands on Twitter.