Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual content, some drug material, brief violence and language.
Running time: 103 minutes.
Two stars out of four.
Vince Vaughn tries to escape his inherent Vince Vaughnishness — with mixed results — in “Delivery Man.”
Only the very slightest traces of his well-worn, on-screen persona — the fast-talking, wise-cracking schemer he first played 17 years ago in “Swingers” — are evident in this feel-good comedy about a middle-aged underachiever who discovers he has fathered hundreds of children through his anonymous sperm donations. It’s as high-concept a premise as you can imagine, one that would seem to find room for both playful laughs and reaffirming sentimentality. And indeed, writer-director Ken Scott adapts “Delivery Man” from his own 2011 French-Canadian hit, “Starbuck,” without deviating vastly or losing much in the translation.
Vaughn adeptly navigates the comedic part, comfortably playing a lovable loser who’s scrambling to keep all the plates spinning at once: his finances, his family’s business, his soon-to-be family with pregnant girlfriend Emma (an underused Cobie Smulders) and the family of hundreds he’s just learned he has. His perpetual T-shirt-and-hoodie combo is such a reflection of his stunted inner self, it may as well be his second skin. It’s the earnestness that still fits him a bit awkwardly, even if the softer approach is a welcome respite from the same-old shtick we saw earlier this year in “The Internship.”
At the film’s start, Vaughn’s David Wozniak is quite literally a delivery man who drives around New York, carrying meat to customers from his family’s Brooklyn-based butcher shop. (Veteran Polish actor Andrzej Blumenfeld brings some grace and class to the film as the patriarch who built the store from nothing decades earlier.) When David himself was struggling for cash in the early ’90s, he became a sperm donor, and a prolific one. It turns out that, through an administrative error, the clinic repeatedly gave his sperm to hopeful mothers, making him the biological father of 533 children — 142 of whom are suing to learn his identity.
So David does what any lead character in a movie would do: He seeks these people out, one by one, and performs good deeds in their lives, against he advice of his longtime friend and lawyer, Brett (Chris Pratt, whose performance as a beaten-down father of four himself is probably the best part of the movie). He drops a tip for the guitar player busking in Central Park. He covers a bar shift for the aspiring actor who hopes to make an important audition. He gets his nails done from a manicurist at a local salon (a young woman who’s half black, in a clever bit of casting). The randomness of these undercover meetings is good for scattered laughs.
But it also brings up an important question, one of many that nagged at me as “Delivery Man” went along: How is it possible that every single one of these kids, who are all around 20 years old, stayed in New York this entire time? Didn’t any of them go off to college in a different state? Didn’t any of them pack up for California with dreams of stardom? Just wondering.
Sometimes, though, shit gets real — as in the persistent and increasingly clingy presence of one of his sons, an intense young man named Viggo (Adam Chanler-Berat). There’s also a fragile girl named Kristen (Britt Robertson) who nearly suffers a heroin overdose when David arrives pretending to be a pizza delivery man. The most shamelessly mawkish example of all, though, is the severely disabled Ryan (Sebastien Rene, reprising his role from “Starbuck”), a character who — theoretically — is meant to demonstrate the depth of David’s capacity for love, but instead feels like a prop.
At the same time, David hopes that by improving these people’s lives, he’ll learn to become a father to the baby he’s expecting with his mistrustful girlfriend. Smulders plays a police officer, which is an unexpected career choice but one that Scott never explores beyond placing her in a uniform and having her stand outside the station, chatting with other cops. The character — and the actress — deserve more development than this.
Ultimately, though, “Delivery Man” is more concerned with big, heart-tugging moments than specific details that provide texture and ring true. Will all these people naturally feel angry and deceived when they learn that their newfound guardian angel is actually, secretly, their dad? Or will they embrace him in a massive group hug? The schlubby, aw-shucks look on Vaughn’s face in the omnipresent “Delivery Man” ads tells you everything you need to know about the ooey-gooey direction in which the film is headed.