‘Delivery Man’ Review
To be a heart-on-your-sleeve weepie in 2013, you've got to have some far-fetched gimmick. 'About Time' has time travel, 'Safe Haven' had ghosts and 'Delivery Man' has Vince Vaughn as an anonymous sperm donor hunted down by hundreds of his young-adult offspring. The mechanics of the plot are so ludicrous that audiences should be forgiven for shouting, “No, sorry, it wouldn't work that way!” back at the screen. But one has to give the movie credit for its sheer audacity. It refused to offer an explanation for its instigating illogic. Great character actor Damian Young gets the unenviable task of delivering the hook with the phrase “certain complications arose ...”
But with all these narrative contortions this crop of films is fundamentally about personal growth - letting go of the past, accepting responsibility, bounding toward the future. Furthermore, they go for the kill high-stakes melodrama – scenes of family members spilling their guts out, an easy but reliable road for getting the waterwork pumps primed. You feel like a stooge, but you still reach for a hankie.
'Delivery Man,' a solid entry in this trend, though far from perfect, is a near beat-by-beat remake of a French Canadian film called 'Starbuck.' Interestingly, France is getting its own remake called 'Fonzy,' though 'Delivery Man' retained the original writer/director, Ken Scott, making it his Hollywood debut. His next picture, also starring Vince Vaughn, is already shooting. In other words, Ken Scott and his work isn't going anywhere – he is a button-pushing crowd-pleaser, and despite my strong schmaltz resistance, I was eventually beaten down by the plain-faced emotion on display. It is manipulative and ridiculous, but I am only mortal. A movie banging the drum of humanism, togetherness and uplift is hard to sneer at for too long.
Also, there are some quality jokes.
Vaughn starts out as the typical man-child. He is the slacker at the family meat store and he owes a lot of money (though when you find out why you'll go “awwww.”) He discovers his on-and-off girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) is pregnant with his child, and he is determined to get his life in order. This is just when his past catches up with him. An early '90s run as a frequent sperm donor has sired an enormous brood, and with the size and pooled resources they are suing to find out who is their biological father.
You'd think this wouldn't be up for discussion. Contracts were signed and there's got to be precedence to maintain anonymity. Also, how could the sperm bank screw up like this? With so many people (in the same area) with the same father, there's a very real chance a young man and woman might meet and start a relationship. (If you believe nature over nurture, they'd no doubt have common interests!)
None of this is addressed. Instead, 'Delivery Man''s script takes a spin through a number of comic scenarios, starting with Vaughn spying on his Millennial spawn and acting as their “guardian angel.” One can't deny it makes one hell of a montage sequence – funny and heartwarming. From gags with the lifeguard and pedicurist to more serious storylines like a drug addict and severely mentally challenged person. Credit goes to the specificity of the individual scenarios and, let's just admit it, Vince Vaughn giving a performance far richer than one normally expects.
But it zips by at lightning speed. It's all at the surface, but with Vaughn's everyday zhlub changing before our eyes (plus some witty best-buddy observation by friend/legal counsel/exhausted father Chris Pratt) 'Delivery Man' ends up playing to your sympathies.
It's all very formulaic and dammit I wish I could lie to you and say I'm cooler than this movie. But just enough of it got to me. (As did the original.) There are some very basic human traits discussed here – the need to search for your roots and the changes that occur with the acceptance of adulthood. The movie has some awful moments, like a scene at Madison Square Garden as embarrassing as Vaughn's turn in Ron Howard's 'The Dilemma,' but the message of acceptance landed hard enough with me that I begrudgingly wound up part of that group hug.
'Delivery Man' hits theaters Friday, November 22.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.