"The Big Year" is a humorous look at the competitive sport of bird-watching. The title refers to a contest to see the greatest number of bird species in one year.

Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) of Montclair, N.J., tries to top his annual tally of 732 bird sightings. Pitted against him is Brad Harris (Jack Black), an up-and-coming birder, and Stu Preissler (Steve Martin), a Vail, Colo., experienced bird watcher for whom his big year may be his last hurrah.

Bird watching has become an obsession for each, and each is coping with the ramifications. Preissler neglects the management of the corporation he founded. Bostick's second marriage is as rocky as the mountains where he's spotted his latest find. Harris can't seem to have a relationship and has issues with his father, Raymond (Brian Dennehy)

"The Big Year" is one-part romantic-comedy, one-part sports movie and one-part travelogue. The movie builds slowly and predictably.

The pace is hampered by the overuse of voiceovers. Black narrates in character. He does a fine job. The voiceovers are too frequent and interfere with the pacing.

David Frankel ("Marley & Me," "The Devil Wore Prada") directs from a screenplay by Howard Franklin ("Quick Change," "The Name of the Rose") based on a book by Mark Obmascik. Frankel resists cheap shots relating to unusual names of birds, such as the Blue-Footed Boobie, Himalayan Snowcock and Pink-footed Goose.

"The Big Year" mostly soars in montages, especially one backed by Coldplay's "Viva La Vida." Screenplays or stories are elevated by conflict. In "The Big Year," each of the protagonists is a nice guy.

Each of the roles is not commensurate with the comedic gifts of Martin, Black or Wilson. Martin is in his "Father of the Bride" mode, although he does get to do a version of his silly walk. Black is similarly subdued. His semaphore eyebrows and manic eyes are in check. Wilson, while not in the same funnyman league, similarly downplays his part.

In supporting roles are Rashida Jones as Ellie, Harris's love interest who does some pretty cool bird impressions and lights up her every scene; Rosamund Pike as Jessica, Bostick's wife; JoBeth Williams as Edith, Preissler's wife; Dianne Wiest as Brenda, Raymond's wife; Anjelica Huston as a boat captain; and Kevin Pollak and Joel McHale as executives of Preissler's firm.

A clever animated sequence, narrated by Monty Python's John Cleese, at the start of "The Big Year," purports to explain the origin of bird-watching.

"The Big Year," MPAA Rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children) for language and some sensuality; Genre: Comedy; Run time: 1 hour, 40 minutes; Distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Credit Readers Anonymous: In one scene in "The Big Year," Brad Harris (Jack Black) dips a pretzel from a bag of Snyder's of Hanover "Pounders" into a jar of peanut butter. His cell phone ring tone is The Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird."

Box Office, Oct. 14: The battle 'bots of "Real Steel," No. 1 again, with $16.3 million and $51.7 million, two weeks, held off the dancing feet of the "Footloose" remake, opening at No. 2 with $16.1 million, and "The Thing" remake, opening at No. 3 with $8.7 million.

4. "The Ides of March," $7.5 million, $22.1 million, two weeks; 5. "Dolphin Tale," $6.3 million, $58.6 million, four weeks; 6. "Moneyball," $5.5 million, $57.7 million, four weeks; 7. "50/50," $4.3 million, $24.3 million, three weeks; 8. "Courageous," $3.4 million, $21.3 million, three weeks; 9. "The Big Year," $3.3 million, opening; 10. "The Lion King," $2.7 million, $90.4 million, five weeks

Unreel, Oct. 21:

"Johnny English Reborn," PG: Johnny English, played by Rowan Atkinson, battles international assassins.

"The Three Muskateers," PG-13: The retelling of the classic tale stars Matthew Macfadyen, Milla Jovovich and Luke Evans.

"Margin Call," R: A thriller based on the early stages of the 2008 financial crisis stars Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto and Stanley Tucci.

"Paranormal Activity 3," No MPAA rating: Young sisters befriend an invisible entity who lives in their home.

Read previous movie reviews at www.tnonline.com [1]. Email Paul Willistein at: pwillistein@tnonline.com [2] and on Facebook.

Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes