Review: Delivery Man
PLOT: An affable loser prone to donating generously at the sperm bank discovers that he's fathered hundreds of children - who know want to get to know him.
REVIEW: Going into DELIVERY MAN, I was prepared for another sardonic Vince Vaughn comedy with another smirky "Everyone is an idiot but me" performance from the actor; seems as though you get exactly what you expect. But I was surprised (might be going too far to say I was pleasantly surprised) to find that the film, a remake of a popular French-Canadian movie titled STARBUCK, is more of a heartstring-tugger, the kind a younger Robin Williams might have found himself in. There's no doubt it's manipulative, sometimes shamefully so, but it's not so bad as far as these things go, and Vaughn turns out to be a rather sympathetic lead.
The pitch is pure sitcom: Struggling loser Dave Wozniak is the low man on the totem pole at his family butcher business (he's the delivery guy), is barely keeping his girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) interested in him and is perpetually in debt. He's evidently always had money problems: twenty years ago he made a minor fortune giving contributions to a sperm bank under the pseudonym "Starbuck"; over 500 contributions, in fact. Now, while he's being hunted by smalltime crooks for money owed and disappointing his family at every turn, Dave gets the news that almost all of those "donations" proved fruitful, and now he has about 500 kids.
Naturally, a movie about a man with 500 children would be stretching the credibility allowed by even the wackiest of comedies, so DELIVERY MAN pairs it down to a little over 100. That is to say, of all those donations, about 100+ of Dave's "children" are actually curious about the man who helped create them. They've hired a law firm to find this mysterious man, whose identity is protected thanks to a contract made with the sperm bank, so now it's up to Dave whether or not he wants to protect his many secrets, or confront them.
Dave's lawyer friend Brett (Chris Pratt) convinces him to fight the request (anonymously, of course), but Dave's curiosity gets the best of him: he starts peeking into the lives of his many kids. One is a basketball star, one is an actor working a coffee shop job, one is a suicidal mess, etc. Before he knows it, Dave is acting as something of a guardian angel to his offspring, all the while keeping his identity hidden from them But things get complicated when he discovers that the whole lot of them have banded together in a support group, which he inadvertently finds himself a part of.
Yes, DELIVERY MAN is filled with ironic conveniences of this kind, and writer-director Ken Scott (who directed the original film) has various degrees of success executing their believability. Of course, we're not here to buy this ludicrous story, but sometimes a movie strains your patience with just how far-fetched it's willing to go, and Scott goes above and beyond the rational limits. (C'mon, he starts hanging out with these dozens of teenagers and A) no one thinks it's even slightly weird, and B) not one of them even guesses that he's actually "Starbuck"?) The director is rather capable at maintaining an agreeable atmosphere; the film is never a slog or dull.
In addition to its implausibility, DELIVERY MAN lays on the sap thick and often. Much of it feels too forced and overly sentimental - especially when we get to the part where Dave learns one of his children is mentally handicapped and living in a foster home. I can take the schmaltzy stuff (and it must be admitted that Scott is not untalented at prodding you in the soft spot when he nails a genuine moment), but DELIVERY MAN is close to crossing a line here, using the unfortunate young man as nothing more than a plot device to help Dave mature and get us reaching for the hankies. Come on, movie, leave that poor kid out of it.
But there's an amiable tone to DELIVERY MAN that makes the proceedings bearable; most of that is thanks to Vaughn, who as mentioned shows off a kinder, gentler side here to positive effect. We get some of the snarky Vaughn that is simply natural to the actor's persona, but for the most part he's a gentle soul here, showing us some range as a man who struggles with his moral conundrum. As his friend, Chris Pratt is the more peevish of the two, cracking off one-liners and asides with humorous ease. They make a good team.
Do I recommend this movie? I recommend it for a certain segment of the audience; a family looking for a none-too-offensive, holiday-friendly comedy could do much worse, but someone seeking out a raunchy number, or something edgy or unpredictable, will likely be turned off by the film's treacly messages about responsibility and family. Yeah I know, who wants to see that stuff, but if you're seeking out something that forgoes the cynical and nasty tendencies Hollywood comedies are prone to these days, DELIVERY MAN might be a welcome respite.