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REVIEW

Free Birds

By DAN LYBARGER SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published November 1, 2013 at 2:09 a.m.

jake-voiced-by-woody-harrelson-travels-back-in-time-to-get-turkey-off-the-thanksgiving-menu-for-good-in-free-birds

Jake (voiced by Woody Harrelson) travels back in time to get turkey off the Thanksgiving menu for good in Free Birds.

I’ll give the makers of Free Birds points for courage. Any movie that deals with turkeys is guaranteed to make viewers wonder if the film itself gobbles. After all, when Jennifer Lopez declared, “It’s turkey time!” in Gigli, more honest words had never been spoken in the history of cinema.

What’s ultimately heartbreaking about Free Birds is not that it is as awful as a movie about turkeys probably could be but that this animated entry actually starts off promisingly.

Reggie (Owen Wilson) looks a little different from his poultry peers. He’s small and has blue plumage. He also has one thing that most domestic fowl lack: a functioning brain.Whereas the other turkeys on his farm stare at walls and assume that missing birds have gone to the great hereafter through magic instead of an ax, Reggie knows it’s not long before he becomes someone’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Before he can become upset by his loneliness, Reggie winds up being pardoned by the president (director Jimmy Hayward, doing his best Bill Clinton voice) and treated to a life of luxury and endless telenovelas.

His splendid isolation comes to an end when a fellow turkey named Jake (Woody Harrelson) abducts him on a seemingly mad quest to take a time machine back to 1620 to derail the first Thanksgiving. While Jake’s memory is faulty, the machine (drolly voiced by George Takei) is real, so the two set out to make turkey dinners a thing of the past.

Sadly, after Reggie and Jake arrive in Plymouth, the story starts to lose its momentum. You know a film has lost its way when a time machine has more good lines than any of the flesh-and-blood characters, turkey or human.

Some terrific actors like Amy Poehler, Colm Meaney and Keith David provide voices, but their characters don’t really give them much room to work. In the case of Poehler, her voice is indistinguishable from several less-famous performers. On screen, her willingness to make a fool of herself is often worth a laugh, but you don’t experience that if you can’t see her.

There are four credited screenwriters (including Hayward and producer Scott Mosier, the producer behind several of Kevin Smith’s movies), but it feels like they stopped around the beginning of the second act and had to come up with the rest of the film on the fly. One would think that when Reggie and Jake discover their more intelligent ancestors, the comic potential would be there.Somehow it isn’t.

Benjamin Franklin admired turkeys and thought they should be the national bird. Perhaps it’s a good thing he’s not around to green light movies.

Free Birds 75 Cast: Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, George Takei, Colm Meaney, Keith David, Dan Fogler, Jimmy Hayward, Kaitlyn Maher, Carlos Alazraqui Director: Jimmy Hayward Rating: PG for some action/ peril and crude humor Running time: 91 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 35 on 11/01/2013

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