Written and directed by Ken Scott
Somewhere in the last 10 years, Vince Vaughn decided to smooth out his edges, sanding down his hard exterior to a bland nub. His acidic work in films like Made, Swingers, and even something as outrageous as Old School is a thing of the past, if his 2013 output is any indication. As both a feature-length Google ad and as a comedy, The Internship was, at best, a forgettable attempt by Vaughn and Owen Wilson to recapture their lewd glory from Wedding Crashers. And now we have Delivery Man, a remake of the French-Canadian film Starbuck, all about a lovable, oafish slacker who turns his life around when he discovers that he’s the biological father of over 500 children.
The high concept aside—and kudos to writer-director Ken Scott, because seriously, how was this not a Jim Carrey vehicle a decade and a half ago?—Delivery Man is a soppy, overly generic, and mawkish feel-good dramedy that skimps far too much on the “edy” part of that genre descriptor. Vaughn is Dave Wozniak, a lazy guy who seems content driving the truck for his father’s meat shop. But then, matters of reproduction converge: first, his long-suffering girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) reveals that she’s pregnant; then, a lawyer informs him that his sperm donations in the early 1990s were used to help spawn 533 children, many of whom would like the anonymous donor known only as “Starbuck” to reveal himself, and they’re suing to get the information. Compassion hits Dave square in the jaw, so he decides both to prove to his girlfriend that he can be a dad, and perform “random” acts of kindness for his many other children while maintaining his anonymity.
The first of Delivery Man’s many problems is that Scott, who co-wrote and directed the original film, cannot handle the tonal shifts at all. (Perhaps Starbuck was better at balancing dark drama and light comedy, to be fair.) The best example comes soon after Dave has become inspired to help out his many children. One of them, a young girl named Kristen (Britt Robertson), is first seen shouting frantically on the phone to…a close friend? A boyfriend? Possibly a relative? No matter. Dave’s initial act is to pay for the pizza she’s just ordered, but when he chooses to stay and make sure she calms down, he finds her, in her bedroom, suffering from a heroin overdose. Soon after, Kristen has Dave “pretend” to be her father and make it so she doesn’t have to go to rehab. The back-and-forth Dave has with Kristen and the legitimately concerned doctor is, based on the twinkly score, meant to be funny. Who hasn’t busted a gut giggling about that one time when you had to get out of rehab, simply because you can quit doing heroin whenever you want? (Not literally busting a gut, mind you.) That, maybe, is the worst part of all: Kristen argues that she can quit whenever she wants, as many addicts often state. And then…well, Kristen apparently quits heroin, cold turkey. In the few times she’s shown throughout the rest of the film, she seems happy, chipper, and generally well-adjusted. In fact, it’s almost as if she was never so troubled to begin with, like Scott forgot the severity of presenting a young woman OD’ing on camera.
Making a film with varying tones is fine, but Scott chooses to bog down the story with unnecessary subplots. The shift, again, from a scene where Dave’s shoved into his bathtub by some goons looking for him to pay off a debt, to any number of lighthearted moments of bonding, just falls to pieces. Maybe another director, or another actor, or a sharper script could’ve helped. But Delivery Man has, instead, a stilted script. Vaughn and, especially, Chris Pratt (as Dave’s friend and barely competent lawyer) have a tough time with some of the dialogue; it sounds as if Scott simply translated the original script into English and not tightened up any of the conversations to account for different dialects and slang terms. That, coupled with some fairly slack editing that includes pauses in dialogue that extend for just one second too many, works against the film. Outside of being painfully manipulative and sappy, it’s a movie that never hits a groove, always skipping awkwardly instead.
Vince Vaughn has seen better, more daring days. There’s nothing inherently wrong with making movies that are safer, or more crowd-pleasing and intentionally uplifting. Just because his two efforts in 2013 are, to varying degrees, creatively hollow doesn’t mean he can’t or shouldn’t keep trying. But part of the problem is Vaughn’s past. In movies like Old School and Made, and even his cameo work in Anchorman, he excelled at playing men who were constantly trying to bargain with everyone else, bilking people out of time and money. Vaughn’s at his best when he’s playing guys who seem like they’re trying to con you. So it’s a bit difficult watching Delivery Man, and wondering if he’s really, sincerely, honestly trying to make you smile, or playing some kind of long-form prank. Vince Vaughn may reach a plateau where he can play genuine good guys with flair. But he’s not there yet.
– Josh Spiegel