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"Starter for 10"

Directed by Tom Vaughan.
Written by David Nicholls.  Based on the novel by David Nicholls.
Starring James McAvoy, Alice Eve, Rebecca Hall, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  3/2/07


Damn, I love an unexpectedly good free flick!

The Tom Hanks-produced import "Starter for 10" is just flat-out a good time, walking that fine line between comedy and romantic comedy just right for the gents and the ladies alike.  My friend Jenny and I caught this one on a rain-soaked night in DC, and in showing up right as the film started, it even fit right into our spontaneous "plan" that night.

James McAvoy (recently from "The Last King of Scotland") stars as Brian Jackson, who heads off to the University of Bristol (England) in 1985 as a frosh looking to justify the dreams of his mother and long-deceased father.  When he gets to Bristol, he of course comes of age in the ways that young frosh are supposed to--finding love for the first time, waking up completely demolished after long nights of drinking, college parties, college professors, incessant protesting, on and on and on.  In the process, Brian--a know-it-all from his days in high school--joins up with the University Challenge team, which is a collection of other smarty pants led by a stuffy nerd named Patrick (Benedict Cumberbatch) who aim to compete against other schools in nationally-televised trivia contests.  During his tryout for the team, Brian meets Alice (Alice Eve), a hot collegiate who gives out the candy like it's her job but still wins Brian over with her charm; their romance fuels the first half of the movie, while Brian's lingering attraction to college outcast Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) fuels the second half.  All the while, the laughs come in bunches thanks to the Challenge team, Brian's kooky friends and roommates, and everything that comes with awkward kids wearing the fashions of twenty years ago with all of that familiar British charm that works well over here in the States.

"Starter for 10" isn't perfect, but it IS solid.  Jenny and I were laughing pretty much all the way through; the story is tried and true and therefore doesn't do anything to further the genre but that was okay with me, because McAvoy & Co. do a great job of keeping the laughs coming.  I'm telling you, the money shot of "Starter for 10"--the eventual trivia championship between Bristol and archrival Queens College--is so funny that I was laughing at just the facial expressions of all of the actors; jeez, this is the kind of British humor I love.  The romantic angles are occasionally over the top, which hurts at times because you can't believe that people still write scenes into their movies where affairs are discovered and summarily followed by "Blank!  Blank, come back!  Wait!!!" as the humbled party hangs their head and shuffles down the stairs and out the door...ahh, movies.  But, writer David Nicholls (working from his novel) and director Tom Vaughan do a good job to include these scenes but minimize them to a manageable level, so the suffering is limited and the good times are maximized.

And, this cast!  McAvoy, again, is a great lead, a great foil for what is going on.  Eve is stunning, and when she gets dolled up to go out on her first date with Brian, the moment is fantastic (supported by gasps in my theater).  All of the Challenge scenes bring laughs, thanks mostly to Cumberbatch--his attempts to "punch" a friend of Brian's late in the film is an instant classic--and the guy who plays the University Challenge moderator, who is stuffily, Britishly fucking genius.  Good mix of characters, which is always key for a wall-to-wall great comedy.

But, again, "Starter for 10" was not perfect.  Still, this instantly becomes one of my favorite romantic comedies ever because of how silly it was.  And, if you like 1980s new wave, you pretty much have to go see this just to hear the soundtrack.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09