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REVIEW: Starbuck
REVIEW: Starbuck

Every time Naked Gun 33 1/3 comes on TV I can't help myself sticking around for the sperm bank scene in which Leslie Nielsen's Frank Drebbin tells a fertility specialist about his problem (Drebbin is feigning an injured arm and thinks he's in an emergency ward).

"I may have yanked it too hard," he tells the shocked doctor before filling enough plastic containers to impregnate a small city.

Indeed, there's something so humiliating about a man performing this intimate act in a sterile public space with the aid of a magazine or DVD ("Do you have The Lady and the Tramp? Spartacus," asks Drebbin) you can't help but laugh.

So you can understand why I was so looking forward to Starbuck, a hit comedy from Quebec about a butcher named David Wozniak who, when a young man in the late 1980s and needing money, showed Drebbin-like indefatigability in filling those plastic jars (he made 648 deposits at the sperm bank at $35 a pop).

Writer-director Ken Scott doesn't disappoint with an amusing opening scene in which David, looking a little drained after his Herculean efforts, struggles to stay focused, getting so distracted by the magazine he's reading he forgets why he's there.

We leap forward 20 years and find David is still a hapless man-child.

He owes $80,000 to loan sharks who are threatening to break his legs), his girlfriend is pregnant but wants nothing to do with him because he is so immature and he is struggling to hold down a job in a butchering business even though it is owned and run by his father and brothers.

Adding to his woes a lawyer from the fertility clinic approaches David (Patrick Huard) and tells him 533 of his swimmers made it upstream and 142 of his offspring want to meet him.

David signed a confidentiality agreement but that's being challenged in the courts.

At this point I was wondering if Starbuck was going to deliver on its promise. It's a sensational premise and, even better, is grounded in reality (apparently the looser laws in the 1980s meant one man could spread his seed far and wide), but where could it possibly go?

Then Scott comes up with a great twist - he has David set out to meet all of his 142 children without telling them so as to satisfy the lawsuit and his own curiosity - that takes Starbuck into surprisingly rich territory for this kind of mainstream feelgood comedy.

The first child he meets is a soccer star, which gets David thinking about his own unfulfilled potential as a part-time player of the beautiful game.

Thus they're not just the fruit of his loins but the living embodiment of what he could have been.

Others, however, need help so, like the angels in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire, David slips in and out of their lives and quietly makes them better. He gets an overdosed girl to a hospital, helps a young bartender get his first acting job, guides a drunk back to his apartment and so forth.

It is during this mammoth task of meeting all his "children" that David, who when the film opens is one of those boofy guys suffering arrested development who routinely populate Judd Apatow movies, comes to learn about fatherhood and responsibility. In other words, it evolves into a rather sweet celebration of the growth to maturity.

Scott cooks up a courtroom sequence to wrap things up that feels forced and bogus and he lays the sentimentality way too thick in the final scenes.

But for most part I enjoyed Starbuck which, at a pinch, joins Groundhog Day and Charlie Kaufman's work in that rarest of categories: the philosophical comedy. I procreate therefore I am.

The first child he meets is a soccer star, which gets David thinking about his own unfulfilled potential as a part-time player.