'Starbuck': A fair trade but decaffeinated comedy
By James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
Shaggy and amiable, "Starbuck" resembles its title character, French-Canadian slacker David Wozniak (Patrick Huard), a black-sheep son of a butcher and perpetual screw-up. And, as we and David learn, his youthful wallet-enhancing trips to a sperm bank in the long-past days of 1992 not only paid off for him, but paid off for the clients of a slightly askew fertility clinic, which used his provided material to help 533 people into this world, with 142 of them suing to find out his real identity, hidden up until now behind the title codename. David is already having maturity thrust upon him by his own mistakes and his policewoman girlfriend, Valerie (Julie Breton), informing him she's pregnant; now, he wants to see what his DNA has been up to ...
Despite the objections of his not-quite lawyer and not-quite friend (Antoine Bertrand, who gets a few weary laughs), David seeks out his children as named in the file. As played by Huard, David is long-haired, unshaven, unkempt and given to wearing T-shirts emblazoned with '80s Marvel Comics characters, rooted to the world by his family and soccer and not much else. He also -- for reasons never offered except as lazy motivation for the plotting -- owes money to thugs.
For every likable moment in Ken Scott's direction and in the screenplay he co-wrote with Martin Petit, though, there's a groaner or a bland montage or an easy bit of sentiment. And while "Starbuck" gets some laughs from Huard's lead performance, it's also something where you can imagine the inevitable English-language Americanized remake, because that's already happened. "The Delivery Man," starring Vince Vaughn and directed by Scott himself, interestingly enough, is due in theaters Oct. 13.
Perhaps Scott will make the second time the charm, because this time the film's not done a lot of favors by its translation: a climactic song, that may or may not have summed up the film's themes, is left un-subtitled, which always frustrates. But even before that, Scott makes storytelling errors that speak without words, like when the climactic trial and David's climactic soul-searching are cut, wordlessly, as pop-song montage, over the National's "Runaway." These are important events, presumably, and Scott skims through them as if bored.
Huard's performance is the best thing in "Starbuck" and the best reason to see it this time around. David's Quebecois family -- a big, sprawling tangle of butcher sons and bustling grandkids with a widowed-but-wise papa at the top -- also accounts for a lot of the laughs through bouncing bits of dialogue off Huard. Spying among his far-flung but oddly concentrated "children," he gets in some well-timed physical comedy as well.
With its man-boy lead character mugging and hugging and fumbling his way to responsibility by the end of the third reel -- a course predestined in the pitch, never mind the script -- "Starbuck" is like a slightly mistranslated Judd Apatow film. The great shots of a beautiful city in the summer (Montreal) and gross-but-gooey emotional moments (there's a reason David needed to make that much money for his strangely fertile seed so long ago) feel more like check marks completed on a checklist, not inspired dramatic or comedic moments. "Starbuck" has all the unkempt charms of its lead actor and lead character, but as a bad boy on his own becomes a good dad to very, very many, the direction and script lets the premise, the cast and the audience down.
James Rocchi has written reviews and articles for print and online publications, including Total Film Magazine, the Toronto Star, IndieWire's The Playlist, Mother Jones, AMCtv.com and Cinematical.com. He's covered film festivals including Sundance, Cannes, the Toronto International Film Festival, SXSW and Fantastic Fest. He's been an on-air reviewer for CBS-5 San Francisco and a reviewer and commentator for CNN, G4, TechTV and more. He lives in Los Angeles, which is both exactly and not at all like the movies suggest it is.