The French-Canadian smash “Starbuck” is an important film, for one reason: It proves that bad Hollywood comedies can be made far from Hollywood. It is infantile, which perhaps sounds fitting, since it’s a film about a man who discovers his numerous sperm donations led to the birth of 533 children.
There is likably infantile (see Adam Sandler’s first two vehicles), and just plain infantile (see every Adam Sandler movie that followed). “Starbuck” is the latter, an “adult” comedy that is neither charming nor wise. It is comedically impotent, an almost-two-hour effort with the emotional heft of a Cialis commercial.
“Starbuck” opens with a scene of furious (attempted) comedic masturbation. It is 1988, and David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) is making one of his 693 donations (over a 24-month period) to a Quebec fertility clinic under the alias “Starbuck.” (Apparently, the film’s title refers to a bull made famous for producing thousands of offspring via artificial insemination in the 1980s and 1990s.)
Cut to 2011, and David, an employee and general screw-up at his family’s butcher shop, is in dire need of cash. He owes $80,000, his girlfriend Valerie (Julie Le Breton) is expecting, and his life is seemingly going nowhere. (He is in his 40s and wears a hoodie and an Avengers T-shirt, which, in the world of “Starbuck,” seems to indicate man-child syndrome.)
Luck comes in the form of an attorney from the fertility clinic, bearing the news that David’s, ahem, donations, resulted in 533 children. (He jokes that he has “postpartum depression – 533 times over”). Many of the kids – 142, to be exact – have filed a lawsuit against the clinic. They want to know who “Starbuck” really is.
The attorney leaves a file with the names and details about some of David’s spawn. (Of course he does.) And so begins David’s icky journey to maturity. “I realized it’s impossible to be father to 533 kids, but I can be their guardian angel,” he tells his slovenly lawyer friend, a scene-killing character played by Antoine Bertrand.
It’s a plot that sounds cooked up in the Sandler laboratory, but believe it or not, it is Vince Vaughan who stars in the currently shooting American remake, “The Delivery Man,” from the same director, Ken Scott.
It’s no surprise, since the film was an enormous box-office success in Quebec, and it has the kind of connect-the-dots screenplay Hollywood adores: David meets some of the kids. David helps them. David befriends the clichéd druggie. David befriends the clichéd goth vegetarian. David begins to earn the respect of Valerie.
There is a long, dull courtroom sequence, and media hype over “Starbuck’s” identity, and tough decisions, and sterling dialogue like this exchange between father and son: “I love you like a son.” “I AM your son.”
More wit, from Valerie and David, respectively, while watching children at a playground: “Look at that one! He’s eating his boogers!” “They’re full of protein!” Insert expressionless emoticon here.
While virtually none of it rings true, and did not elicit even a single chuckle from this viewer, it’s not Huard’s fault. If anything, he is the film’s saving grace, a likable actor saddled with an unlikable role. He is the sole believable performer onscreen, and, oddly, that means the finest scenes in this strained romp are serious ones; David’s interaction with one of the 533, a teen with special needs, is almost moving. Almost.
Huard resembles the love child of Danny McBride and Gabriel Byrne, but it fits the character, and in a film that makes “Two and a Half Men” feel as subtle as “Tokyo Story,” his avoidance of overdoing it is noteworthy. This is a film, after all, that features a 100-person-plus group hug.
“Starbuck” is the kind of faux-heartwarming, gutless, transparently “risqué” comedy that Hollywood loves to make. David may believe he suffers from “postpartum depression,” but after sitting through his story, you’ll feel 533 times worse.
One and a half star
Starring: Patrick Huard, Antoine Bertrand, Julie Le Breton
Director: Ken Scott
Running time: 109 minutes
Rating: R for sexual content, language and some drug material.
The Lowdown: A Quebec man’s sperm donations come back to haunt him when he discovers he is the father of 533 children.