Have you ever sat though a movie and had a distinct feeling of déjà vu? Sure the names and settings have been changed to protect the innocent but “Starter for 10” will give you that slightly clairvoyant feeling. I guessed the ending ten minutes into the movie; I hate that.
When Brian Jackson (James McAvoy) sets off for college, he enters a new posh world of academics, women and booze. He leaves his idiotic friends Patrick (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Tone (James Corden) with the promise he won’t turn into a wanker. He makes new friends Rebecca, the smart and funny brunette who enjoys his company and who he always has fun. He decides to join the University Challenge Team (University Challenge is a British answer to Jeopardy, where universities’ brightest people compete against each other in a trivia challenge.) On his University Challenge team is the painfully annoying Spencer (Dominic Cooper), the akward Lucy Chang (Elaine Tan), and the blond bombshell Alice Harbinson (Alice Eve). Brian is instantly attracted to Alice, and a kind of romance begins. The contest, college and love challenge Brian’s character. Will outstanding beauty beat out a great personality? Will Brian throw everything away because he can’t handle the pressure? How will it end? Can you figure it out?
“Starter for 10” is set in the eighties. I think director Tom Vaughan and writer David Nicholls wanted to use the humorous aspects of the 80’s to boost the laughs. They can’t quite put their finger on what was funny or ridiculous about the eighties so they spontaneously throw annoying eighties references at us. If I see one more fat guy in a leather jacket rocking out to eighties music with long hair and saying “dude”, I don’t care if I’ll be charged with murder, my fingers will find a comfortable place in the actor’s eyes. I don’t think any jury in the US or UK will convict me.
I think a bunch of amateurs worked as the crew on this movie. During the opening scenes of the movie you can see the boom coming in and out of scene. It’s distracting, to be nice. This isn’t a low budget film, it was produced by Tom Hanks, and yet they can’t get a professional boom holder upper? The editors didn’t notice? The videographers didn’t see it floating in and out of their frame? Did they do their talent scouting in a high school?
The “University Challenge” scenes are the best part of the movie. They are full of quirky rivalry. One of the characters on the other team looks like a blond Harry Potter. Mark Gatiss plays Bamber Gascoigne, the host of “University Challenge.” His uptight snobberty and elitist attempts at humor are the funniest part of the movie. He uses the upper crust exaggerations of vowels to extend answers, and even though nearly every response is the same, it’s funny every time.
James McAvoy’s has no chemistry with any of the other actors. Alice Eve and he kiss and fireworks turn to duds! When Rebecca Hall and he kiss, they looked like they were just waiting for the scene to end. When he is fighting with Benedict Cumberbatch it has so much fiery passion, I heard my water turn to ice. The only exception is when he is fighting with Dominic Cooper, who plays Spencer. The witty quips tossed back and fourth turned the corners of my mouth upward more than once. Spencer comes from the right side of the tracks and holds it against Brian that he comes from the wrong side. It felt exaggerated versions of scenes from Goodwill Hunting.
“Starter for 10” is a reasonably enjoyable film that hits the mark from time to time. Most of the characters except Brian are prosaic and usually are there only for a cheap laugh in one or two scenes. It is sometimes funny, sometimes sweet but is predictable and consequentially boring.