Review: While Success Has Many Fathers, A Failure Has Many Children in the Sweet “Starbuck”

Of the ever-mounting obligations “Starbuck” places on its lead character David Wozniak, the biggest one may in fact be living up to one of the truly great premises for a comedy in recent years. A scruffy Canuck who’s $80,000 in the hole when we first meet him with a kid on the way via his on-again, off-again girlfriend Valerie, David is surprisingly unconcerned with paying off his debts, but to his surprise and ours, it’s a batch of investments he made long ago as a teen that take precedence, a ridiculous 693 donations to a sperm bank that’s resulted in 533 children, 143 of which would now like to know who their father is.

Co-writer/director Ken Scott wisely leaves out the specifics of why the kids have the sudden urge to meet their pops, eventually leading to a class action lawsuit to reveal his identity, but “Starbuck” operates at the same level as its its lead, big-hearted and short a few brain cells, ultimately able to win everybody over with big gestures and an absolute lack of guile. Not only does the film offer a nice showcase for the beefy Patrick Huard, who plays the overgrown Adidas tracksuit-wearing man-child David to perfection, but it’s cleverly structured so that like David, the audience gets to bond from afar with a handful of David’s offspring, who range from street musicians to lifeguards to manicurists, when he begins to learn their names and spy on them as if he were their “guardian angel.”

While “Starbuck” is never as gutbustingly funny as its outrageous set-up would suggest, it’s more than amusing and far sweeter than silly, bringing David’s discovery of an unexpectedly gargantuan flock of children down to earth as a fable of accepting other people’s quirks, first of those he’s fathered and then attempting to get others to accept his. It would’ve been easy for Scott to stray too far from the concept by lingering too long on certain kids’ story lines or letting David off the hook too easily, but “Starbuck” avoids those pratfalls as it takes pleasure in watching David hit every one in his path. The chief missteps here are how casual some of the more seedy events of the story are treated, whether it’s the attempted overdose of one of David’s children or the brutality of two thugs sent over to collect David’s debts, neither of which seem to have any consequences on its characters after the moment passes.

Then again for a pure popcorn flick such as “Starbuck,” not looking back may be for the best. As David learns, even when the past comes back to haunt you, it’s only what you can do in the here and now that matters and though the story of “Starbuck” was inspired by new developments in in-vitro fertilzation, it gives birth to an old-fashioned good time.

“Starbuck” is now open in Los Angeles and New York.

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