Based on the novel by Edward Riche (who penned the screenplay), this film from Sturla Gunnarsson is, like The Shipping News, the story of a down-on-his-luck guy in the middle of Newfoundland. William Hurt (who seems to be retreading his Accidental Tourist persona) plays Dave Purcell, whose marriage has failed and whose fancy restaurant, the Auk, is going under, despite its bucolic location and dream-list wine cellar. Dave’s buddy Phonce (Andy Jones) suggests they claim that a rare duck has been spotted near the Auk’s cliffside setting. The ploy works, and business booms, but then things begin to go awry. A birdwatcher plunges to her death, ornithologists suspect fraud, and Dave finds himself attracted to Phonce’s saucy, mercurial sister-in-law (Molly Parker, somewhat wasted here), who’s helping out at the restaurant.
Several subplots involving Phonce add little but confusion and clichés: a submarine prototype he’s invented, several pounds of cocaine he found a dozen years ago on a tanker, and those men in suits who seem to be tailing him. This film hovers between dark comedy and mirthful drama but never lands on either one. The scenery is lovely; the too-perky pseudo-Celtic soundtrack, however, is just plain annoying. Rare Birds not only doesn’t soar, it’s not even ready to leave the nest. (99 minutes)