When it came to writing this review, my notepad had only one scribbled sentence following the press screening: “His Facebook skills have improved since The Internship.” As with most Vince Vaughn vehicles, there isn’t that much depth to Delivery Man, yet it’s his most watchable film since Swingers (and, embarrassingly, I’ve seen pretty much all of the trash, including The Watch and Couples Retreat).
That reason is down to director Ken Scott. While Vaughn is the main actor, it’s distinctly Scott’s film – which means Vaughan’s tiresome schtick and caffeinated ranting is replaced with Scott’s less tiresome schtick. The offbeat direction is particularly apt considering the offbeat plot requires a straight performance from Vaughan. And that plot, well...
Delivery Man is a remake of 2011’s Starbuck, also directed and co-written by Scott. I haven’t seen Starbuck, but from research doesn’t seem to be vastly different, other than the cast and switching languages from French to English. David Wozniak (Vaughn) is literally a delivery man for a meat shop, and finds his metaphorical job as a delivery man has come to haunt him: he regularly donated sperm at an early age, and is effectively a biological parent to 533 children – 142 of whom take legal action to find the identity of their father.
As a twist, David’s girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders) is expecting their first baby. She is, however, kept in the dark, as David instead confers with his lawyer and likeable friend Brett (Chris Pratt re-embodying Andy Dwyer). With that, Emma is mostly off-screen and unintentionally treated like David’s unwanted children.
But David is mostly alone in his suffering – he’s mocked in the media (even if they don’t know his identity), the family business is under strains, and he’s too frightened to tell Emma. Knowing Vaughn’s persona suddenly becomes helpful, as it’s certainly something to see him miserable and silent. Whether he’s playing basketball in the rain or shyly pretending to bump into one of his children, there’s something oddly touching about Vaughn not ranting obnoxiously. Ken Scott is no Paul Thomas Anderson, but there’s a parallel with Punch-Drunk Love working because of Adam Sandler’s terrible film history.
Delivery Man turns predictably sentimental at most plot steps, with his interactions with Emma being the most cliched. It’s harder to fault his peculiar relationship with 142 children; there might be mawkish twists and dialogue, but the whole gang together are frightening and, under a different director, would represent a horror film.
And, yes, it does sound strange that biggest compliment is Vaughn finally approaches someone resembling a human being. Despite the end product, Vaughan’s career is built from decent concepts that are haphazardly executed. At least with Scott in charge, middle ground is established. After all, even box office poison can be diluted if the measurements even out.