1-1/2 stars (out of 4)
A movie should not automatically be reprimanded for exposing William Hurt's pale, bare behind on a large screen for an extended period of time. But "Rare Birds," a movie that happens to expose William Hurt's pale, bare behind on a large screen for an extended period of time, should be - and sternly so.
In Canadian director Sturla Gunnarsson's transparent, misguided attempt at eccentricity, chef Dave Purcell (Hurt) is the proprietor of The Auk, a struggling restaurant on the edge of Edge-of-the-World, Newfoundland. His wife has left him for a job in Washington, D.C., and the cold drudgery of life has curiously transformed his accent into a grating Brooklyn-Irish-Deep South hybrid, with a little French Canadian mixed in for good measure.
Dave's neighbor Phonse (Andy Jones) hatches a plan to attract tourists to these parts - he and Dave fake a sighting of a rare duck thought to be extinct - and soon business is booming, with the chi-chi bird-watching community working up quite the appetite while looking for that fowl.
I would have been more than content to watch Dave cook, talk about food and interact with Phonse's mildly intriguing sister-in-law Alice, who helps out in the restaurant. The Auk resides in a small, boxy yellow house and rests on rocky terrain just feet from the ocean. Its town is a quaint rural outpost of wood-burning fireplaces and fish markets. This is the type of place secluded, rustic vacation dreams are made of. Unfortunately, the movie has subplots.
Phonse, a real character (in the sense that no one is this quirky except in the movies), has a large stash of cocaine and a self-manufactured "Recreational Submarine Vehicle" hidden away in his shed. And the shed is connected to his house by a tunnel that's inexplicably lit up by sheets of mysterious material.
In exchange for Phonse's help with the duck con and an endless supply of cocaine, Dave is an obligated accomplice in his neighbor's oddball schemes, charged with pricing out the drugs and accompanying Phonse on a harrowing jaunt in the water Winnebago.
Hurt is paralyzed by his role in this wacky pileup. He stumbles through scene after scene, appearing drunk when he's high on cocaine, stoned when he's sober and falling in love, and curiously unable to walk when he's, well, walking. And while a leading man's derriere might redeem some films, Hurt's is not the backside for that job. His performance highlights the crux of what's wrong with this film: Everyone's trying way too hard to be peculiar.
Not nearly as mouth-watering as the tale of a struggling restaurant in "Big Night" or as aesthetically breathtaking as the Newfoundland scenery in Lasse Hallstrom's otherwise ineffective "The Shipping News," "Rare Birds" is rendered bland and frustrating by its endless attempts to make the odd odder.
Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson; written by Edward Riche; produced by Paul Pope, Janet York. A Shadow Distribution release; opens Friday at Wilmette Theatre, 1122 Central Ave., Wilmette. Running time: 1:41. MPAA rating: R (language and drug use).
Dave Purcell - William Hurt
Phonse Murphy - Andy Jones
Alice - Molly Parker