You'd expect plenty of comedy in a film with Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black; but actually, I laughed more in the short preview for "Johnny English Reborn" than the entire 90 minutes of "The Big Year."
Which is not to say the movie stinks.
On the contrary, it's an engaging tale that aims not for your funny-bone but for your heart - with an emphasis on friends and family, a little suspense and lots of birds.
In this Oct. 7 photo, actors from left, Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Martin, cast members in the film “The Big Year,” pose together for a portrait in Burbank, Calif.
The titular time period refers to a bird-watcher who is out to see how many species he can spot in 365 days.
Wilson, Black and Martin play three birders, each trying to break the record of 732 set by Wilson's character in an earlier year.
Tension and message are generated by the fact that all three have pressing personal concerns to clash with this expensive and time-consuming hobby.
Wilson's Kenny has a wife who wants him home to help conceive long-awaited offspring; Martin's Stu has a high-stress corporate job; and Black's Brad has very little cash, plus a father who cannot understand his obsession.
The film is not a complex study in relationships, but - thanks to solid acting all around - neither does it present us with cliches and cardboard characters.
For instance, Kenny reveals priorities that constitute an accident waiting to happen - yet the script resists turning him into a creep or a villain; at the same time, it refuses to let him off the hook for his bad decisions.
Indeed, unlike many similar dramedies, "Year" flatly posits that you really can't have everything you want: You must choose between your family and your ambitions; and the film then takes a mature and level-headed look at the ramifications of that choice.
The three leads are nicely supported by a bevy of notables, including JoBeth Williams, Brian Dennehy, Rashida Jones, Tim Blake Nelson, Joel McHale, Kevin Pollak, Angelica Huston, Dianne Weist and Rosamund Pike.
In a mild lapse of believability, Pike - who has played a Bond girl and an Austen heroine (and who also appears in the forthcoming "Johnny English" sequel) - will certainly have viewers wondering how any red-blooded male could prefer birds to this radiant and devoted wife.
Dennehy, meanwhile, brings much conviction to his relationship with Brad, especially in the winsome scene involving an owl.
And while there are a few laughs, the film is more effective at generating suspense, especially when the men rush off after some rare species that has suddenly been sighted heaven-knows-where.
Loosely based on an actual three-way competition that occurred in 1998, "Year" also does a fair job conveying the wonder of its avian subject matter; but then, I'm fond of birds to begin with.
As long as they're not in a Hitchcock movie.
*** (out of four)
The film is rated PG for mild language.