Jimmy Hayward’s Free Birds is the kind of disaster that raises all sorts of questions. Foremost is exactly what kind of psychotropic drug cocktail the director and his co-writer Scott Mosier were on while concocting this screenplay. Their story is one of the more random and unfocused in recent mainstream cinema and especially doesn’t belong in a film meant for children. As with the masterminds behind Turbo, this team takes the already absurd concept of talking, time-traveling turkeys and, instead of harnessing the “anything goes” liberties of animation, transforms it into an insane, implausible premise.
Awkward from the start, Hayward spoon-feeds the introductory conflict of intelligent turkey Reggie (Owen Wilson) not fitting in with his numbskull brethren before tumbling into all-out erraticism. One moment, he’s a simple outcast bird thrown out of his coup for apparent slaughter and the next he’s pardoned by the President of the United States (voiced by Hayward, doing a bad Bill Clinton impersonation) as part of the annual Thanksgiving ceremony. No sooner have we become accustomed to Reggie’s bizarre new life as a bathrobe-wearing, pizza-ordering VIP at Camp David than that mood is broken by the ridiculously gung-ho gobbler Jake (Woody Harrelson). Pitching a mission that would make Hunter S. Thompson blush, he claims they’re fated to travel back in time in order for turkeys to no longer be a late-November staple, then promptly rushes off to more tangetially-related nonsense.
Relishing this storytelling ADHD, Free Birds alternates between cruelty, lazy slapstick, romance, and wannabe heart, appealing to the apparent mood-swingers in all young minds. Transported three days before the first Thanksgiving by the government’s top-secret talking time machine named S.T.E.V.E. (George Takei), they fall in with a band of what appear to be Native American turkeys, complete with face paint and heavily accented English. And so commences more idiocy, incorporating a miserable romantic subplot between Reggie and Jenny (Amy Poehler), frequent macho standoffs between Jenny’s brother Ranger (Hayward again) and Jake, and a sudden, unearned emotional moment involving Jenny and her father, Chief Broadbeak (poor Keith David). Rounded out with the viciously anti-turkey Myles Standish (Colm Meaney) and the lame oddball musings of his fellow colonists, it’s a true mixed bag where each addition takes the story further from whatever initial goals it may have had.
While all this is occurring, one can’t help but be constantly aware of Wilson spazzing out in character while recording his lines in a sound booth. It may very well be that the same one to three yells are recycled, but when Reggie’s sum total of shouts from various dumb stimuli is somewhere in the 30s or 40s, the annoying audio draws undue attention to itself. There’s also the sad realization that this $55 million project utilized the time, effort, and skills of hundreds of people. Spitting in the face of the crew’s respectable animation, Free Birds is a mammoth waste of talent and toxic for all ages.
Rated PG for some action/peril and rude humor.
Free Birds is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.