Free Birds is like a trip to Chuck E. Cheese: a noisy, expensive way to blow two hours with your kids that will leave you feeling tired, addled and dazed, wondering: “I paid for that?” Read ahead for why I’m being so mean to Chuck E. Cheese in particular.
Story. The plot – – such as it is – – focuses on Reggie the Turkey (Owen Wilson), a brainy, thin misfit among his dumb, cornfed flock. Reggie gets plucked (sorry, could not resist) out of his humdrum life when the President (somebody doing his best Bill Clinton) pardons him. Whisked away to the President’s posh retreat at Camp David, Reggie has just discovered the joys of pizza and crap TV when a muscle-bound, wild turkey named Jake (Woody Harrelson) birdnaps him. Jake believes that Reggie is destined to save all turkey-kind by taking a time machine back to the First Thanksgiving and somehow stopping the settlers from figuring out how tasty turkeys really are. So, off Jake and Reggie go to the 1600’s. There, they meet up with their smart, spiritually grounded ancestor turkeys – – who walk around with war paint designed to make them look not-so-vaguely Native American. Reggie falls in love with a feisty, girl turkey with a lolling eye (Amy Poehler), and – – together – – they ward off attacks from the starving, sinister and vaguely psychotic colonists.
Free Birds is a mess. It ping pongs from one plot point to another, hoping that you will mistake frenetic activity for an actual story. The dialogue is snarky without being witty: like a sarcastic teenager shouting one-liners that wouldn’t even make his friends giggle. And the product placement! At the end, the turkeys convince the settlers to eat pizza – – Chuck E. Cheese pizza, with the logo prominently displayed on every box. I’m sweet on capitalism, but that bit of marketing was so bald and intrusive that it made me want to kick Chuck E. Cheese’s smarmy mouse mascot in the crotch.
Look, I understand the temptation to see this flick. There are so few Thanksgiving flicks out there, and . . . this one has turkeys and even a token Native American or two! But, please, save your money. If the HUGE historical inaccuracies and marketing don’t offend you, THINK OF YOURSELF!! This movie is practically guaranteed to make your kids turn their noses up at the lovingly cooked turkey dinner you plan to give them. Imagine: seven hours of cooking only to be told that they want pizza . . . Chuck E. Cheese pizza!
P.S. I have to grudgingly admit that this movie has two saving graces: (1) George Takei’s silky baritone as the voice of the time machine (very funny); and (2) the animation of New England in the Fall – – it’s wicked pretty.