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'Free Birds' is nuts even for a movie about time-traveling turkeys

Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson voice turkeys who travel in time to stop their kind from becoming the main Thanksgiving dish in the cartoon "Free Birds."

A turkey voiced by Owen Wilson tries to explain time travel in "Free Birds." Credit: Relativity Media A turkey voiced by Owen Wilson tries to explain time travel in "Free Birds."
Credit: Relativity Media

'Free Birds'
Director: Jimmy Hayward
Voices of: Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson
Rating: PG
2 (out of 5) Globes

The latest computer-animated, 3D-enhanced movie about a talking animal who wants to do more than what it’s supposed to in life is “Free Birds,” a seasonally appropriate yet visibly wobbly tale of turkey rebellion.

It centers on Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson), an outcast who appears to be the only Galliforme who realizes that turkeys – gobbling idiots, each and every one – are usually considered to be the main course around the holiday season. Luckily for Reggie, he gets pardoned by a Bill Clinton-sounding U.S. president when his ADD-addled daughter chooses Reggie for a pet.

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For a while, Reggie lives the high life, gorging on pizzas and watching telenovelas. That is until a tenacious, dunderheaded, freedom-fighting turkey named Jake (Woody Harrelson) pulls him out of his comfy surroundings and tells our boy he serves a vital role in the liberation of turkeys. Jake then takes the now-skeptical Reggie to a secret government lab, where they jack a time machine (which is shaped like an egg and is voiced by, of all people, George Takei) and quantum-leap back to the first Thanksgiving, where they have to find a way to get turkeys off the main menu.

They eventually get there to find that turkeys are a strong, proud and, shall we say, tribal bunch, trying to survive without being wiped out by a rather sociopathic Myles Standish (Colm Meaney), who is apparently hell-bent on obliterating the entire turkey population. While he’s there, Reggie does get sweet on a lazy-eyed turkey warrior princess (Amy Poehler).

“Birds” is virtually a rollercoaster ride of good and bad intentions. Although the kiddies may not pick up on it, the movie seems to be a thinly veiled take on the tragedy of the American Indians, only with turkeys playing their role. But adults may be too baffled by the movie’s overwhelming unevenness to be fully appalled by its motives. The script tries to be both playfully frivolous and emotionally earnest. Not to mention the premise of turkeys traveling back in time to save turkeys goes ridiculously off the rails — even for an animated film featuring talking animals — in the third act.

Too well-intentioned to be a travesty yet too embarrassingly executed to be considered a nice try, “Free Birds” hits the screen with a thundering thud. You may end up feeling like Les Nessman, when he witnessed all those turkeys come crashing to the ground in the classic “Turkeys Away” episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati.” Oh, the humanity!

 
 
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