The last time Steve Martin was funny on the big screen? Somewhere between 11 and 22 years ago, depending on your tolerance for “Bowfinger.” The actor knocked out half a dozen near-classics in the 1980s, but since “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” he’s been languishing in family movie hell, aside from occasional diversions into serious indie drama. He made a memorable guest appearance on “30 Rock” last season, and stole the show at last year’s Oscars when teamed with Tina Fey (this year? not so much…), but that’s been about it for the last two decades.
The star is now set to team with two younger comedians who also haven’t been on form for a while, Jack Black and Owen Wilson, in the comedy “The Big Year.” Based on the 1998 book by Mark Obmascik, subtitled “A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession,” it follows three men competing in a bird-watching competition, whose rivalry “is an allegory for the challenges each faces in his own life.” The project’s been in development for years at Fox, and had Dustin Hoffman attached at some stage — presumably Martin’s taking the role originally intended for him?
The list of producers includes Ben Stiller and Curtis Hanson, and it’s set to go before cameras in May. The film is being directed by Dave Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “Marley & Me”) who seems to have a deft hand for broad (though formulaic) popular entertainment, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing — rather him than, say, Nancy Meyers. The script for the new movie is by Howard Franklin, who wrote the underrated Bill Murray heist picture “Quick Change,” so there’s a little glimmer of hope. But, having said all that, it will probably be awful.