Few actors carry the ability of Vince Vaughn in conveying an unique type of smooth-talking weariness, but 51 films into his career that expression has seeped over into the work itself. The jittery wiseguys of “Swingers” and “Return to Paradise” have aged into truly desperate futures; the films that they now inhabit carry only a high-concept logline, a new, forgettable occupation for Vaughn to try, and hopefully a few laughs to render the whole thing serviceable. To the credit of “Delivery Man,” which sees NYC schlub David Wozniak (Vaughn) discovering that his old sperm bank haunt has erred and resulted in 533 of his biological children being produced, Vaughn’s occupation is a little more memorable this time.
Aside from the convenient title, that’s because David uses his family’s meat business’ truck as a personal vehicle. Averaging three parking tickets a day and shirking off pleas to grow up from his brother Aleksy (Bobby Moynihan) and father in the store, he also tends to a meager weed business to escape a mob-backed debt. That all changes though when his girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders) discovers she’s pregnant, and actively wants David out of her life when the baby is born. He promises to show her his potential for responsibility, but by the time a sperm bank rep shows up and informs him of 142 children planning a class-action lawsuit to acquire their father’s name (he used the moniker Starbuck in the clinic), it’s already clear that David has a plethora of human targets for his half-cocked fatherhood-in-training.
If the plot sounds familiar, it’s likely because you’ve possibly already seen director Ken Scott’s 2010 Quebec film “Starbuck,” which took the same storyline and charmed many including Vaughn, who helped produce the English-language remake. Sensing magic, Scott returns here to write and direct, but really he’s helming an exact replica on the scale of Michael Haneke with “Funny Games,” only more manipulative of the audience.
This is a film where the supporting characters exist only and obviously to serve David’s emotional and thematic journey—Aleksy a new father, announces the tiny joys of babydom, while his two-bit lawyer and best friend Brett (Chris Pratt) dishes out daily resentment upon his four kids, and they him. As for his biological marks, they include Josh (Jack Reynor), an aspiring actor stuck in a barista job; Kristen (Britt Robertson), addicted to drugs and in danger of being evicted; and a whole host of others whom we see as David swoops in and attempts to improve their lives.
Obviously the notion of a grown man hunting down his unsuspecting kin across a white-washed New York City strays outside the realm of normal behavior, which is fine if the narrative grounds it in a consistent reality. What Scott does instead though is veer from broad farce (hampered by Vaughn’s usual tics) into treacly melodrama scene-by-scene, pushing logic to the side and aiming for emotion while smoothing off what little edge existed in the original. Kristen’s drug addiction is reduced from a needle in use to a indistinct belt wrapped around her arm, while the mob—a visible, violent threat in the 2011 version—are here only conjured late in the game for an elbowed-in conflict.
That sense of contrivance runs throughout, such as when David just happens to follow one of his kids into a hotel conference room being used as a meeting for Starbuck’s Kids, or when he later attends a camping weekend with all of them under disguise. Every once in a while Vaughn displays that he still can pull off a dramatic performance; slowly his eyes grow wider though, his voice register starts to swell and we’ve relapsed back into “The Internship” mode of yell-acting.
Elsewhere, the four scenes of Smulders arguing with Vaughn do her no favors, but she at least infuses a recognizable fear of parental responsibility into them. The comedic weight then falls to Pratt and the Jon Brion score, and thankfully each element comes close to saving the film. The “Five-Year Engagement” and “Moneyball” actor is immensely reliable in a sidekick role at this point—so attuned is his timing and empathetic manner—and as a hapless lawyer out of his element here he steals the show away from Vaughn with regularity. And although Brion uses his trademark Optigan keyboards for more of a conventional feel this time, his score does effectively to punch up key moments—like a long hospital hallway walk as David is admonished by a nurse for Kristen’s drug history, alongside Kristen who does the same for David’s suggestion that she go to rehab.
The scene in the hospital treats Kristen’s addiction as a punchline, and it is no coincidence that the matter is cleared up and discarded two scenes later. It is one of many fleeting struggles in the film that feel too calculated to connect, which Scott then layers acoustic indie rock over to make up the difference. There are themes of familial connection and responsibility drenched across every frame of it, but aside from a few performances and amusing asides, “Delivery Man” is a bland translation of a sweet, but already flawed original. [D]