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There's nothing like a great American holiday to lay bare the deep-seated cynical exploitation of American sentimentality for profit. After all, what could be more American than that? And what better holiday for fatuous fun-filled instant-soul-death orgy fare like the new animated feature Free Birds than Thanksgiving, a holiday which was literally engineered to replace white guilt with Black Friday? That's one reason Free Birds has grossed over $33 million since it opened in the beginning of November. Oh, and of course, 'cos there's pizza, idiot!
I feel suitably guilt-free revealing the spoilers of the story since there is nothing original in the plot at all. It is, rather, just a pastiche of major plot points from Avatar, Back to the Future and Charlotte's Web. It's both mind-numbingly obvious and highly improbable. Here it is:
A turkey named Reggie (Owen Wilson) realizes all turkeys must die. Reggie is then pardoned by the President — a typical white Texan since animation studios are still stuck in the George Bush administration. Soon Reggie is ensconced in pardoned luxury like Scooter Libby, eating Chuck E. Cheese pizza and watching telenovelas. Keep your eye on that pizza. There's plenty more where that came from.
From his retreat, Reggie is kidnapped by Jake (Woody Harrelson) whose mission it is to go back in time to the First Thanksgiving and take turkeys off the menu. He was told this by The Great Turkey, a God-like vision who appeared to him from a glowing egg as a child. Reggie and Jake take a time machine, which looks like a glowing egg named S.T.E.V.E. (Sulu from Star Trek), to Plymouth, 1621. There they encounter the colonists who are an ill-formed hungry bunch of mooks led by their mincing glutton governor (Dan Fogler). I use the word mincing advisedly because the character is a gay stereotype, only one of the fun three pack of racism-sexism-and-homophobia that the film offers. There's also a nefarious bounty hunter named Myles Standish (voiced by Miles O'Brien from Star Trek, who as we all know is Irish.) The colonists would like to eat turkey with Thanksgiving, which seems fair if not entirely historically inaccurate. [They ate deer.]
Importantly, Reggie and Jake also encounter a race of smart, wily turkeys with Native American war paint on their faces who speak in either the lilting broken English that we've all heard from old shitty depictions of Native Americans or offensive Hispanic accents. Sometimes they mix the two in one inane line of dialogue. Reggie learns from these turkeys the values of bravery, team work, and other charms of the noble savage. The tribe is led by the pacifist Chief Broadbeak who wears a piece of wood on his head and scours. Reggie soon falls in love with his daughter, the toothsome Jenny (Amy Poehler), but trouble is brewing because Jake has developed a rivalry with Ranger, Jenny's macho brother.
Reggie, Jake and the rest of the turkeys are hunted by Standish, who Jake accidentally leads back to the tree of life or whatever the fuck you call their turkey's nest. This entire narrative arc is lifted from Avatar which is a much better movie so just watch that. Anyway, they all escape Chief Keef or whatever, who is crushed to death.
Reggie and Jake continue with their mission to take turkeys off the table and in the end they travel through time — Holy fuck! Reggie is the Great Turkey! — and end up replacing turkey with Chuck E. Cheese pizza, delivered by a happy-go-lucky stoner who has time-traveled with them. In the end, everybody is happy and obese. The turkeys are saved, the settlers are happy. Native Americans will still be wiped out but...at least the Native American turkeys will be saved?
Obviously, the film is sponsored by Chuck E. Cheese pizza (other really ham-fisted product placements in Auntie Anne's Pretzels and The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.) which itself is problematic. But even if you don't object to paying $12.50 to watch what is essentially an ad for the true stomach-grenade pizza of Chuck E. Cheese (which, incidentally, doesn't deliver) the movie is still abject. It's such a belabored hodgepodge of cliches and comedic set pieces that even if it was underwritten by UNICEF — take the turkey! leave the child! — it would still reek. It's like watching the world's unfunniest sketch comedy.
But it's also just obviously a non-starter, morally, when you write out the plot in a single sentence: Turkey heroes go back in time to replace the turkey of Thanksgiving with Chuck E. Cheese pizza. It's like telling our kids to stop eating so much candy....and eat more meth. Amy Poehler, Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson, I hope, made a ton of cash off this flick because they're definitely going to hell for participating in this film. And while they're there, they'll have plenty of time to watch Free Birds on a loop and eat Chuck E. Cheese pizza for eternity. Just desserts, I'd say.
Rating: 0/5 Stars. Really.