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'Starz' don't shine

"Bar Starz" is the latest in a rash of low-grade, low-rent comedies that should've found itself immediately on the new-release shelf at your nearest Blockbuster. And yet, it inexplicably received a theater-distribution deal and is now infiltrating multiplexes today. I'm almost shocked the title doesn't begin with the words "National Lampoon's." The movie would've fit quite well with all the cable-ready comedies that once-respectable humor empire has been dropping lately.

"Bar Starz" has some nebbishy guy named Barry (Derek Waters) who, along with good buddy Douglas (Charlie Finn, resembling a sociopathic Bill Paxton), relocates from Ohio to San Bernardino (or "San Bernadinho, as Douglas calls it) to attend community college. It's there where the horndogish Douglas hips his nerdy compadre to the city's nightclub scene -- most notably, where he lies on the social totem pole.

Douglas aspires to send his loser friend (who is basically considered "filler" in the nightlife world) to the ranks of "bar starz," trendsetting men-about-town like hopelessly self-centered event coordinator Donnie Pintron (Jon Bernthal). When Pintron and his crew set up a competition for young men to be an intern in his crew, Douglas sees this as a chance to coach his boy into becoming a man.

Relentlessly ridiculous (and I wish I meant that as a compliment), "Starz" is like a testosterone-charged version of "Mean Girls," without Tina Fey's lacerating, insightful wit to keep the movie from dissolving into lameness. As a person who once did time as a nightlife columnist, I'm not going to deny there aren't yahoos out there like the big-men-in-nightclubs "Starz" lampoons. Pintron and his team aren't so much caricatures as they are straight-up buffoons, mostly fueled by Red Bull and blinding ego. Unfortunately, broadly sending up these goofballs is the most remotely clever thing the movie does.

"Starz" is really a nerd-conquers-all flick, with Waters' mopey schmo trying to transform himself into a baby Pintron before he realizes -- surprise! -- he's just fine the way he is. (Didn't Patrick Dempsey star in a bunch of these movies back in the '80s before he became McDreamy?) He even has a hot egghead chick (Jana Kramer) telling him so, while silently lusting after him, for most of the movie.

But "Starz" is mostly a lethargic affair, a movie that can't even muster the effort to put its main characters in a four-year college, for Pete's sake! You know it's bad when Charlie Murphy, who shows up as a wise club bouncer (and, for some reason, a backwoods ID forger), barely scores any laughs.

I will say this though: the movie has two things going for it. Bernthal's dedicated, enjoyably ridiculous performance as the full-of-himself Pintron; it's like the dude did the whole role under the influence of ecstasy. And then, there's the meta closing-credits epilogue, which is more clever and funnier than the whole movie. Without those two, "Bar Starz" is just like the stylish idiots it makes fun of: special in its own mind.

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