One logical conclusion to the genealogy trend of recent years has just made its way to American theaters: the French-Canadian film "Starbuck." The high concept of Ken Scott's comedy-drama is to reverse the curiosity about those linked to us by DNA, making the investigation not about ancestors but descendants.
To be exact, 533 of them. Twenty-three years ago, David Wozniak (an amiably goofy Patrick Huard) deposited enough in a sperm bank to unwittingly sire hundreds of children. Now 142 of those pigeons have come home to roost in the form of a class-action lawsuit by those determined to uncover their father's identity. The case captures the public imagination, and soon everyone in Quebec seems to have an opinion about David, pseudonymously known as "Starbuck."
David's frequent screw-ups as delivery man for the family butchery and his financial over-extension (which has creditors threatening bodily harm) establish a life of disappointing and being disappointed even before the sperm hits the fan. The disappointment extends to David's girlfriend -- a cop he has impregnated the old-fashioned way -- who dumps him to raise the child on her own.
When the lawsuit slaps him, David first enlists a borderline-inept lawyer buddy (Antoine Bertrand, a comic saving grace), then gradually allows his curiosity to get the better of him. He begins peeking in the files of his children of questionable legitimacy and arranging "chance" meetings with them. While never revealing his identity, he cannot help himself from becoming their "guardian angel." This new sense of purpose and his innate generosity of spirit starts to chip away at his resolve to remain anonymous.
"Starbuck" initially shows some bite and reasonably strong comic and visual sensibilities, but it grows cutesier and cutesier, revealing director Ken Scott's mainstream instincts. There's an intriguing point at the heart of the picture, about the ultimate responsibility of conceiving a child, but the way in which it's underlined with the fresh pregnancy emblematizes the film's unsubtle agenda, hurtling toward an unsurprisingly sentimental resolution.
It doesn't help that Scott and co-writer Martin Petit are lazy, and deliberately hazy, when it comes to the pivotal plot point of the lawsuit, which David's lawyer insists will "go down in the history books." They treat it as a comic MacGuffin, but an audience might reasonably expect to understand more specifically what the kids expect out of the suit. Their claim never seems remotely convincing either, since we're not made privy to the plaintiffs' legal strategy and the law seems rather obviously on David's side.
Scott is content to treat the problem as one with a simple solution: Hug it out. And thus "Starbuck" will appeal to those willing and able to be shamelessly manipulated at the movies (and, I suppose, why not?). If "The Intouchables" made you chuckle and wipe a tear away, "Starbuck" is next in line to do the same for you ... or to you. Or you can just wait for the remake, written and directed by Scott and starring Vince Vaughn, which opens just six months from now and promises to be just as schmaltzy.
Rated R for sexual content, language and some drug material. One hour, 49 minutes.
- Peter Canavese