RARE BIRDS directed by Sturla Gunnarson, written by Edward Riche from his novel, produced by Paul Pope and Janet York, with William Hurt, Molly Parker, Andy Jones and Sheila McCarthy. 99 minutes. A Lions Gate release. Opens Friday (March 1). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 70. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
never underestimate the value of a great character actor.Without Andy Jones, Rare Birds would be one of those movies in which William Hurt sits around studying the exquisiteness of his own pain.
As Dave Purcell in Rare Birds, Hurt sits on one of lonelier coastal promontories in Newfoundland, running a gourmet restaurant called the Auk where no one ever comes to dine. His wife's dumped him for a job in Washington, and his restaurant's about to go under.
Then his best friend -- his only friend -- Alphonse (Jones), an amiable local with a lunatic streak, invents a plan to save the restaurant -- though there's no evidence that Dave cares whether his restaurant fails or not. 'Phonse will create a fake sensation, a rare sea duck that will show up in the cove. Bingo, all these birdwatchers with refined tastes and big-city credit cards will come and make the restaurant a hit.
We soon learn that 'Phonse is a man of many schemes, including personal submarines and recreational paranoia. In 'Phonse, Jones -- a mainstay of the East Coast comedy scene (and brother of Cathy) -- has the perfect role. He shows up, electifies the movie, then goes away. He's the acting equivalent of a defibrillator, and every time the burgeoning relationship between Hurt and the new waitron, Molly "Queen of Pain" Parker, threatens to get sticky, Jones shows up.
The worst thing you can do with a movie like Rare Birds is oversell it. It's an enjoyable little film, but vastly superior to that other recent Newfoundland movie. Sturla Gunnarson, a TV and documentary veteran with a couple of feature credits (the guilt-fest Diplomatic Immunity and Such A Long Journey, from Rohinton Mistry's novel), doesn't exactly show a flair for comedy, but he does know how to get out of its way.