From the moment Ken Scott’s French-language Starbuck was released in Canadian cinemas in 2011, the consensus was that, given its high-concept nature, a Hollywood remake was inevitable. In turn, Canuck critics and moviegoers alike indulged in fantasy casting concerning who would fill Quebec star Patrick Huard’s schlubby shoes as the hard-luck David Wozniak in this goodnatured yarn about fatherhood and responsibility. Odds are, the name Vince Vaughn didn’t feature on many ballots.
That said, having earned a reputation as a frequently difficult, often unmotivated star, Vaughn is actually well-suited for a redemption arc. Had Scott tailored the script for this English-language remake to play to his leading man’s strengths—which are hardly legion—a convincing story concerning reformation might have naturally taken shape. Regrettably, other than relocating his film from Montreal to New York City and replacing hockey references for their basketball counterparts, nothing else has been altered. Consequently, Wozniak remains the same faintly sketched character he was in Starbuck, making it incumbent on the actor playing him to fill in the blanks, conveying life experiences not imparted by the copious expository dialogue. Alas, Vaughn doesn’t do much heavy lifting.
That aforementioned high-concept premise that caught DreamWorks’ eye (and left them seeing dollar signs) is simple enough: David, a fuck-up-waiting-to-happen delivery driver, is hit with a devastating one-two punch. First, his long-suffering, no-nonsense girlfriend, Emma (Cobie Smulders), advises him that she’s pregnant and doesn’t see him as father material. (For instance, he owes $80,000 to some local loan sharks who are starting to circle.) Next, he’s informed that he’s already a biological father to some 533 children. It seems he dropped into a sperm bank with alarming frequency in the ’90s. Now, 142 of his progeny are launching a class-action lawsuit aimed at having him publicly reveal his identity. Maintaining his anonymity on the advice of his hapless lawyer (Chris Pratt, unable to elevate the middling material he’s saddled with), David sets about stalking his progeny in order to learn more about them.
The sequence that follows is seemingly designed to reflect the “spectrum of fatherhood.” If the heaping dose of saccharine associated with such a phrase leaves you feeling queasy, be warned: the scenes themselves won’t sit any easier. Lest David be left with the impression that every kid grows up to be a NBA star (as is the case with the first son he tails), other offspring have significant crosses to bear. Fortunately, he possesses a remarkable knack for instantly alleviating their burdens, curing a daughter’s heroin addiction by just letting her be and bettering a disabled son’s lot simply by “being there.”
Indeed, Scott doesn’t make many demands of his lead character, proving content to simply let things fall onto his lap. To wit, Emma inexplicably comes crawling back, offering him a second chance without him having demonstrated any ability or willingness to change. (She’s unaware of the guardian angel role he’s assumed.) Consequently, Delivery Man represents another bad day at the office for supposedly strong-willed female characters. After enduring the indignity of playing a ghost in Safe Haven, Smulders must suffer through being a complete non-presence here.
Not that her male counterparts fare significantly better. Typically, a character reveals what they’re really made of once backed into a corner. Regrettably, Scott has little stomach for putting his coddled creation in difficult positions. That’s truly unfortunate as the film’s most cringe-inducing scene is also its most uproarious. Unsuspectingly walking into a meeting staged by the young adults involved in the class action, David is forced to fight off the flop sweat and wriggle out of the situation. It’s the one instance in the film that Vaughn seems wholly engaged, demonstrating a nimbleness in both his physicality and patter that’s rarely seen from him anymore. We genuinely sense that the man-child is completely overwhelmed by coming face-to-142-faces with the consequences of his youthful accumulation of frequent-donor miles.
It’s all the more reason to loathe Scott’s handling of the next tight spot David finds himself in. Through a series of contrivances (including the belated return of that neglected subplot concerning that significant debt), he’s placed in the unenviable but innately dramatic position of being forced to make the impossible decision between doing what’s right and what must be done. Alas, Scott apparently can’t take the tension—or conceive of a better resolution—and opts instead to let David off the hook. But then, should we really expect anything more from a redemption story that dedicates most of its running time to assuring us that its subject really isn’t that bad of a guy?
Spending its climax (including a laughable “highly dramatic” Facebook post) making overtures about risking it all without ever taking a chance itself, Delivery Man ultimately completes its own arc from laziness into outright gutlessness.
Director: Ken Scott
Writer: Ken Scott
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders, Andrzej Blumenfeld
Release Date: Nov. 22, 2013