Rare Birds

on September 09, 2001 by Charles Martin
A deeply flawed but stunningly beautiful adaptation of Edward Riche's bestseller, "Rare Birds" has all the right elements but completely fails to gel together. Monster-truck-sized plot holes, overplayed "goofy Newfie" eccentricities and underplayed leads all undermine a really charming film.

Dave (William Hurt) is a middle-aged man in the throes of his mid-life crisis, having turned his back on corporate America (a move his wife did not make with him) and opened a failing restaurant called the Auk in the isolated wilds of Newfoundland (with some of the most breathtaking scenery to come along in years). Despite being a wonderful cook, Dave is lazy to the point of comatose, and prone to temptation--be it drink or drugs. As his dreams fall apart, his neighbor, Phonse Murphy (a scene-stealing Andy Jones, who seems determined to make up for Hurt's sleepwalking performance), just happens to have found a huge bale of cocaine in the bay while on one of his secret excursions. So, Dave, the former addict, finds a way to sell the cocaine and saves the restaurant, with plenty of money left over for Phonse's venture, right? Movie over? No way. A exceedingly contrived comedy of errors ensues with Phonse and Dave routinely ignoring obvious solutions to problems in favor of convoluted, Acme-brand schemes that involve endless throwaway ideas and only hint at deeper subplots from the book but never get developed. The smoldering love-and-redemption story that should have been the focus of the film gets crushed under the weight of a parade of bizarre Canadian characters and strained set pieces.

While often amusing and always eye-poppingly beautiful, "Rare Birds" frustrates viewers with half-realized ideas and senseless generalizations. It would have made a great episode of "Northern Exposure" for its quirky charm, but ultimately the film, like the Auk, doesn't fly. Starring William Hurt, Molly Parker and Andy Jones. Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson. Written by Edward Riche. Produced by Sam Feldman, Paul Pope, Jeff Sackman, Tamara Shannon and Janet York. A Lions Gate release. Comedy. Rated R for language and drug use. Running time: 100 min.

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