Starter for Ten (United Kingdom/United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Starter for 10 is a mildly enjoyable romantic comedy that stays within the safe bounds of the genre's formula. This is a British film, which may make it feel a little quirky to American viewers. The problem with it, to the extent that there is a problem, is that the movie is only sporadically funny and lacking in the romance department. The love story is perfunctory, and seems present more-or-less because the film bears the "romantic comedy" label, and it's hard to be a "romantic comedy" without some kind of love interest.

The movie transpires in 1985-86 on a university campus in England. Those who (like me) entered college during that era will find a lot in Starter for 10 that is familiar - the clothes, the attitudes of people, and the music. All of this background material lends color to the movie, but it doesn't fully compensate for the trivial nature of the plot, which is a little stale and contains a few of what I call "stupid sitcom moments." The film's general blandness should generate some appeal for those who don't like edgy material. Surprisingly, despite a high quotient of profanity, the movie somehow managed to achieve the golden PG-13 rating.

James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland) is Brian Jackson, a nerdy guy in his first year at a posh British university. His primary goal at school is to become a contestant on the popular game show "University Challenge." After a few bumps in the road, he achieves this objective, becoming one member of a four-person group that includes team captain Patrick (Benedict Cumberbatch), Alice (Alice Eve), and Lucy (Elaine Tan). Meanwhile, away from the team, Brian develops a comfortable sparring friendship with Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), a girl who will attend almost any left-leaning protest. Romantically, Brian has a choice to pursue either Alice or Rebecca. Romantic comedy veterans will know who he goes after and who he ends up with. That aspect is written in stone. Other elements of the film, such as what happens to the team on "University Challenge," are less predictable.

It will be hard to find anyone who actively dislikes Starter for 10. This isn't the kind of film to generate passion one way or the other. It has a small film's appeal, although there are some big guns behind it. (Tom Hanks and Sam Mendes, to name two.) Words like "nice" and "pleasant" are appropriate, although I may have stifled a yawn or two during the proceedings. The acting is solid, with McAvoy and Rebecca Hall doing nice jobs, even though there's not a lot of chemistry between them. Alice Eve manages to keep her character from falling into the stereotype pit, although she spends some time teetering on the edge. To me, this is the kind of movie that's more deserving of a rental than a trip to a movie theater, although I have definitely seen worse this year.

Starter for Ten (United Kingdom/United States, 2006)

Director: Tom Vaughan
Cast: James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alice Eve, Elaine Tan, Rebecca Hall
Screenplay: David Nicholls, based on his novel
Cinematography: Ashley Rowe
Music: Blake Neely
U.S. Distributor: Picturehouse
Run Time: 1:36
U.S. Release Date: 2007-02-16
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1