"Delivery Man" Is Moderately Amusing, Entirely Unnecessary

I like Vince Vaughn. No matter how sophomoric, disposable, or maudlin his films become – and some cover all of those bases – I enjoy his screen presence. In the past decade, he’s cultivated a very succinct onscreen persona – the sharp, lovable underdog-slash-everyman – and it’s propelled him to box office stardom (if not superstardom). Despite recent thrashings from critics, audiences seem to agree – he’s a worthy leading man. And even those who aren’t fans of his work would be hard pressed to argue with his easy charisma.

His latest starring vehicle, “Delivery Man,” is a straight remake of the 2011 French Canadian comedy, “Starbuck.” The writer and director of that film, Ken Scott, returns for the re-do and the result is exactly what you’d expect from a filmmaker remaking a film he made just two years ago – it’s lethargic and a bit aimless. That’s not to say it’s without its charms, but it’s too pedantic and never finds the right balance between comedy and drama.

If forced to choose between the two, I’d say that “Delivery Man” is more of a drama – not exactly what Vince Vaughn fans would expect, nor what they’ve been sold by the pic’s ad campaign. The phoned-in nature of the film only serves as more ammunition for his detractors. Remaking a less than two year-old film doesn’t signal creative hunger on the part of its star. But Vaughn’s likability is as strong as ever, and he makes the project into something watchable, if inessential.

David Wozniak (Vaughn) is an underachieving 40-something who works for his father’s meat-packing business while struggling to make time for his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Emma (Cobie Smulders). Buried under a small mountain of debt, David resorts to low-level pot dealing to keep the loan sharks at bay.

Upon learning that Emma is pregnant, our protagonist also finds out that his past has caught up with him – in the most monumental way imaginable. A lawyer informs him that the sperm bank to which he donated as a 20 year-old mistakenly gave his sperm out to hundreds of clients. As a result, David has 533 children, 142 of which are suing him to uncover his identity.

Understandably disturbed by this revelation, David confides in his best friend and lawyer, Brett (Chris Pratt), a struggling father in his own right – albeit to a mere four children. The story requires David to become something of a creep, but that doesn’t make it any less disheartening. He begins tracking down his children, becoming part of lives but without telling them who he is. He thinks of himself as a guardian angel, but in reality his actions are self-serving and shallow.

As David starts going to meetings for the children of Starbuck (the pseudonym under which he donated sperm), it becomes clear that the film’s biggest priority is to grab us by the neck and direct us through a very specific set of emotional reactions, the most obvious of which is David’s interactions with a disabled son. These scenes are vaguely sweet, a little creepy, and very transparent, coming dangerously close to belying Vaughn’s sheen of congeniality.

The rest of the picture is predictably of the feel-good variety – covering the film in a fog of phoniness – David overcoming each of the screenplay’s loosely assembled obstacles with minimum effort. The high concept makes for some overly episodic storytelling – a handful of David’s kids have their own mini storylines – a conceit that might have been better suited for television. But Vaughn makes it work well enough that we don’t regret passing the time with him.

Thusly, “Delivery Man” is hard to love but almost impossible to dislike, battering us with its saccharine storytelling touches until we give in and decide to go along for the ride. Vaughn fans will find enough laughs to justify the two hours, but the tonal issues will make it a hard sell for anyone else. It’s as passable as it is uninspired – perfect for a rainy day but hardly worthy of much thought. See, enjoy, forget. And hope Vaughn summons a little more ambition when it comes to selecting future projects.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)

Release Date: November 22, 2013
Studio: DreamWorks Pictures
Director: Ken Scott
Screenwriter: Ken Scott
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders, Britt Robertson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, sexual content, some drug material, brief violence and language)