Earnest little Canuck comedy The Birder does what it can to be endearing with its tale of a professional flap in the cutthroat world of ornithology, but it struggles to get off the ground.
Tom Cavanagh (Ed, Scrubs) stars as underachieving high school teacher Ron Spencer, a focused fellow with a Ned Flanders moustache whose modest life goal is to be head of all things birds at a park in Point Pelee, Ont.
Ron is crushed to see Floyd Hawkins (Hard Rock Medical’s Jamie Spilchuk) fly off with his dream job. Floyd is hip to what’s hot and knows people can tweet more effectively than warblers. Poor Ron is stuck in the ’90s, still making “Macarena” jokes. How can he compete?
He finds an unlikely ally in Ben, his slacker former student, now the stoner school janitor (Algonquin’s Mark Rendall). Ben is convinced Floyd wants to make time with his ex, Laura (Tommie-Amber Pirie, The Trotsky) and encourages Ron to join him in a takedown.
Ron, a by-the-books sort, is reluctant but becomes increasingly game when his junior ranger daughter Sam (Cassidy Renee) appears to be joining Team Floyd for the summer. That’s one betrayal too much to bear and Ron who comes up with a pungent plan for taking Floyd down.
Look for amusing cameos from Fred Willard (Best in Show, the Anchorman movies) as a bumbling provincial park president with a fondness for Scotch, and Graham Greene (The Green Mile) as a foul-tempered head janitor.
Director Theodore Bezaire tries to make the most of a limited budget, although the cassette tape bird calls gag could have used an update, while the concept of spotting a “lifer,” that elusive once-in-a-lifetime bird, has echoes of 2011’s bird-watching competition comedy, The Big Year.
Still, it’s good to see Cavanagh back onscreen. His low-key take on this devoted nerd and unapologetic bird lover — and one who is proud to be so — is the best thing about The Birder.