** (out of 5)
November 1, 2013
Owen Wilson as REGGIE
Woody Harrelson as JAKE
Amy Poehler as JENNY
George Takei as S.T.E.V.E.
Colm Meaney as MYLES STANDISH
Keith David as CHIEF BROADBEAK
Dan Fogler as GOVERNOR BRADFORD
Studio: Relativity Media
Directed by: Jimmy Hayward
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
If I remember 2013 for anything in movie theaters, it will be films that require ridiculous stretches of the imagination in order to swallow the plot. Not every film has been like this, of course. After all, “Gravity” was about a team of astronauts stranded in space, and “Captain Phillips” was about a man kidnapped by Somali pirates.
However, 2013 also gave us “Turbo” (a film about a garden snail, magically imbued with super-speed, who entered the Indianapolis 500), “This Is the End” (a film about the Biblical end of days happening during a rager at James Franco’s pad), “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” (a film about a broken weather machine that makes giant food monsters) and “The Family” (a film about a gangster family from New York that is put in witness protection in small-town France, then asked to lay low by hosting a barbecue that will introduce them to the community).
“Free Birds” just might be the most preposterous set-up yet. (Well, except for “Turbo,” ‘cause that film was ridonkulous to believe, even using five-year-old logic.) In “Free Birds,” a Presidentially pardoned turkey steals a time machine that sounds like George Takei, then travels back to the first Thanksgiving in order to get his species off the menu.
I’m all for silliness in movies, especially animated films. However, there needs to be a certain amount of finesse for it to work. If done well, a ludicrous premise can become something charming, like “Kung Fu Panda” or “Up.” However, it the answer to the audience scratching their heads is to just make the film louder and more obnoxious, it’s a failure.
This is ultimately why the biggest problem with “Free Birds” isn’t the premise. It’s what they do with that premise that makes the film fall flat. “Free Birds” throws a lot of jokes at you, but many of those jokes should have hit the cutting room floor before they hit the audience. They’re often weak deliveries and recycled material.
Sure, kids are going to enjoy certain aspects of the film, but there’s scant material for the grown-ups that will get them to the theater and coax any real money out of them. Had “Free Birds” been made for a direct-to-DVD run or as a special movie to run on the Cartoon Network, and the parents could just let the kids watch it without bringing them in tow to the theater, it might have been more acceptable. The rudimentary animation certainly makes the movie feel like it doesn’t belong in the multiplex. (Yeah, I know we’ve been spoiled by Pixar and DreamWorks, but that’s the state of affairs in animation today.)
It’s not that the voice acting is bad. Sadly, many of the actors give good performances (with particular note to Woody Harrelson, who plays the slightly insane turkey who initiates the time travel mission). There’s a lot of good names associated with the cast, which also includes Owen Wilson and Amy Poehler. However, actors are only as good as their material, and the material in “Free Birds,” while mildly amusing at times, just isn’t very good.
Still, I do award the film a few conciliation points begin that it’s a bona fide Thanksgiving movie, and we don’t really get too many of those.