For 10 points, what is a fun but obvious movie? Answer, "Starter for 10". Here we have a movie which in fairness works; the humour of 80s academia interwoven with the portrayal of academic snobbery on "University Challenge" combined with a romantic storyline is a fun concoction which doesn't overly pastiche the 80s but delivers embellished characters. Yet strip away the "University Challenge" element and you are left with the familiar romantic storyline of boy meets nice girl but fancies the sexy girl only to realise that the better option was the first girl after making a prat of himself. It is a romantic storyline which I have lost track of the number of times I have seen it employed and it is why "Starter for 10" never becomes more than a good movie.
From a young age Brian Jackson (James McAvoy - Penelope) has been obsessed with knowledge choosing to watch "University Challenge" with his parents to learn more. So when Brian heads to Bristol University and sees auditions for the University team he can't wait. It is through the audition he becomes smitten with team mate Alice (Alice Eve - She's Out of My League), sexy, bubbly and popular and not only does it cause him to take his eye off of his course work but also cause issues when it comes to his friendship with fellow student Rebecca (Rebecca Hall - Frost/Nixon).
So let me tell you what is right about "Starter for 10" and that is the retro look at 80s Britain and the sort of people you would see on "University Challenge". Instead of going for the obvious jokes about tacky fashion it actually goes for more subtle authenticism and instead goes for embellishing the actual characters. And in particular we have Benedict Cumberbatch as the overly posh Patrick Watts and Alice Evans as the sexy Alice who provide so much fun for bordering on the caricature like. But it is not perfect and in trying to show the academic dislike of Thatcherism it is less than subtle and seems to be trying to make a point 2 decades after the cause.
But the trouble is that whilst this gives us fun characters and the fun set up of "University Challenge" "Starter for 10" ends up ordinary because of the old romantic storyline it throws at us. As I've already mentioned I have seen more movies than I care to remember where we have a guy who could have a nice girlfriend but is distracted by the sexy babe who sexily blows smoke in his mouth, yes that is a scene in the movie. It is because of trotting out this unoriginal romantic storyline that "Starter for 10" only ends up good and no matter how many amusing scenes such as Charles Dance and Lindsay Duncan's naked bodies hidden behind well placed objects will help it be anything more.
Now on the subject of Charles Dance and Lindsay Duncan there is a lot of well known faces from established stars to those just beginning their careers with Catherine Tate, James Corden and Dominic Cooper all having fun characters to play. Of course James McAvoy is the star of the movie and due to the romantic storyline he is solid as Brian but unremarkable. More remarkable is the sexy Alice Evans and also Benedict Cumberbatch who steals every single scene he is in because of his characters over the topness.
What this all boils down to is that "Starter for 10" is a fun movie, a nice 80s retro movie with some fun scenes and entertaining characters. But it is let down by an unoriginal romantic storyline which has been used so many times that it drags everything which works about the movie back to ordinary.