This is the sort of movie that critics were invented to despise: a crowd-pleasing, oafish, wildly implausible pile of sentimental dreck. But just like its main character, a French-Canadian meat-delivery man named David Wozniak (Patrick Huard, looking a bit like Mel Gibson on steroids and estrogen pills), it's too stupid to hate. It'd be like kicking a golden retriever because it licked your face.
Wozniak is an idiot straight out of Dostoevsky: a saintly, muscle-bound naif whose main achievement in life is that he managed to father 533 children after a two-year binge of sperm donation 20 years earlier. He also seems to owe $80,000 to a loan shark, with little consequence beyond serial bathtub waterboarding that ranges in tone from slapstick to serene.
Anyway, 142 of Wozniak's test-tube children have banded together in a class-action lawsuit to learn his identity. Poor fella, he thinks the kids might be disappointed in him, so he instead fights them in civil court while stalking them creepily and anonymously through the streets of Montreal. One by one, he inseminates the lives of the young with himself: a goofy-grinned, middle-aged dude whose pores appear unnaturally open to the world. He sneaks in on his progeny's drug overdoses, offers terrible advice, cons his way into hospitals and skulks around uninvited on their dates.
But Wozniak is loved by everyone he meets. He loves everyone he meets. He has no frontal lobe—seemingly nothing beyond a brain stem—and neither does the film. Even as Wozniak's actions descend into a sort of pouting psychopathy, he and Starbuck maintain the charm of a child who lacks self-control but who nonetheless loves you very much. It is this fundamental inanity that saves the film from what, in more capable hands, would be rank cynicism toward both the characters and its audience.
You won't have long to wait, though, for just this kind of insincerity. In October, director-writer Ken Scott will remake this film with Vince Vaughn, who will probably bring just enough self-awareness to make the film a disturbing exercise in sociopathy.
But as it stands, when Starbuck ended with the most blatantly pandering scene I've witnessed since Free Willy, I didn't really mind. It's OK. I know that Scott means well, and that he's doing the best he can. It's like a child's essay about ice cream, and how good it is. Who could hate a thing like that?
Critic's Grade: B-
SEE IT: Starbuck is rated R. It opens Friday at Fox Tower.