This French Canadian comedy is supposed to be sweet in a naughty kind of way, one supposes, but it comes off feeling vaguely unpleasant rather than engaging or amusing. The picture, which Ken Scott directed and co-wrote, has a premise that almost precludes the ability to like it.
“Starbuck” is about redemption through parenthood, but not parenthood of the conventional sort. The protagonist is a forty-something lout named David Wozniak (Patrick Huard), who makes deliveries for his father’s butcher shop but spends more time gambling and playing soccer. He’s a loser whom we’re meant to find a charming rogue, but the selfish persona exuded by the beefy, unkempt Huard makes it difficult to do so.
It turns out that David had one accomplishment in his youth, however: he was a champion sperm donor, making more than six hundred contributions to the clinic bank under the pseudonym of Starbuck. And his seed was extraordinarily fertile, resulting in the birth of more than five hundred offspring. Now over a hundred of them are suing the clinic to force it to reveal their biological father’s identity.
David, who owes $80,000 to bookies and has gotten his girlfriend Valerie (Julie Le Breton) pregnant, takes the advice of his pal, a pudgy lawyer named Paul (Antoine Bertrand), to oppose the lifting of his veil of confidentiality and even seek damages. But intrigued by what he’s wrought, he looks into his children’s lives, and even intervenes in some of them, by posing as the adoptive dad to a disabled litigant who can’t attend their meetings himself. One of his progeny, a klutzy Goth kid, works out who David really is and insinuates himself into his life under the threat of outing him. (A sequence in which David introduces this inept lad to the soccer field is embarrassingly broad slapstick that reminds you that the French idolized Jerry Lewis.)
The last reel is largely devoted to a trial in which Paul plays a major role as David’s bumbling counsel, but of course it’s inevitable that eventually David will accept his lot. That coincides with Valerie’s giving birth to yet another of his children and accepting him as a real dad, and his other kids invading the hospital to congratulate him with a hug that fills the entire lobby.
To be fair, there are a few fleeting moments in “Starbuck” that earn a smile, like one early on in which the married Paul advises David about the woes of real fatherhood as his three kids ignore every word he says to them. And Igor Ovadis provides some welcome wryness as Wozniak pere, who comes through for his son when it counts. The picture is nicely photographed by Pierre Gill, too.
But there’s something decidedly off in a movie with this premise that doesn’t even bother to bring any of the parents who have brought up David’s biological offspring into the equation. They basically don’t exist as far as the story is concerned, except for a remark by one of the lead litigants to the effect that he’s grateful to his “adoptive” parents but wants to meet his “real” father. How do the makers think that David’s sperm led to births, anyway? Or how the infants grew into twenty-somethings?
That’s why, despite (or because of) Huard’s mugging, “Starbuck” is more likely to cause queasiness than smiles of contentment.