The French-language Canadian comedy “Starbuck” is currently being remade by Hollywood, and it’s easy to see why. Blessed with a clever, faintly naughty premise and a frumpy, lovable loser as its lead, “Starbuck” goes at its audience with a big heart and puppy-dog eagerness. If nothing else, this might be the most heartwarming film ever made about masturbating into a plastic cup for money.
Directed by Ken Scott—who will also be helming the American redo, “The Delivery Man,” starring Vince Vaughn—“Starbuck” follows the foibles of David Wozniak (Patrick Huard), a genial, lazy 40-something who owes a lot of money to loan sharks, who threaten his life if he doesn’t pay up soon. Plus, he’s just found out that his girlfriend (Julie Le Breton) is pregnant with his child, except she’s not sure if she wants him around to raise it. That would be sufficient stress for any man, but he also discovers that the fertility clinic where he used to donate sperm in the ’80s when he was hard-up for cash is being sued by 142 of the children that came from his seed, demanding to know his identity.
Consumed by curiosity, David obtains the files of the plaintiffs, who are now in their 20s, and insinuates himself into their lives without revealing who he is. Like a Montreal-set “Amélie,” “Starbuck” is an altruistic fable about a regular guy who wants to do good for others, although in this case it’s because he feels guilty about not doing anything earlier.
Scott aims for a crowd-pleasing vibe, and in Huard he’s found a warm presence to play this oafish man-child who finally grows up. The variety of David’s offspring poignantly hints at the many directions his life could have taken: His kids have grown up to become star athletes, struggling actors, and angry outsiders. (In one of the more affecting, albeit somewhat manipulative, sequences, he even meets a son who is severely disabled.) It’s a wide swath of humanity, and “Starbuck” gets some mileage from exploring the mystery of how different elements of our personality reveal themselves in our children.
As sweet-natured as it is, though, “Starbuck” operates on a touchy-feely fantasy plane that’s distractingly removed from reality. Just as David’s loan sharks are never really that dangerous, so too are his children rather toothless creations. Keeping his identity secret from most of them, David doesn’t have to engage in the emotional repercussions of what he did decades ago, and the movie’s blanket happy ending seems more of a glossy cop-out than a satisfying conclusion to the real stakes raised by the premise. “The Delivery Man” is slated for release in October. It’s entirely possible that, with a little tinkering, it could be that rare American remake that’s better than the original.
Critic’s Score: C+
Directed by Ken Scott
Casting by Daniel Poisson, Pierre Pageau
Starring Patrick Huard, Julie Le Breton, Antoine Bertrand