‘Delivery Man’ gets the comedy-drama mix all wrong

At this point in "Delivery Man," these kids still have no idea Vince Vaughn is their sperm donating father. Credit: Jessica Miglio
At this point in “Delivery Man,” these kids still have no idea Vince Vaughn is their sperm donating father.
Credit: Jessica Miglio

‘Delivery Man’
Director: Ken Scott
Stars: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

The 2011 French-Canadian film “Starbuck” was not exactly a box office juggernaut, but it’s on an international remake tour anyway. In addition to the Hollywood version — in the works as the original was granted a token American release — it’s also being remade in France, meaning it will again be in French. (The cultures are different enough that this isn’t entirely weird.)

Is the premise really that irresistible? Now called “Delivery Man” and helmed by the original filmmaker (Ken Scott), it stars Vince Vaughn as David, a middle-aged slacker who works as “an incompetent meat driver” for his father. About two decades before, David made rather a lot of sperm donations. He forgot about them, having only been interested in the cash, so he’s surprised to learn his seed wrought 533 children, about 200 of whom want to make contact.

This may sound like the makings for a broad yukfest, until you think through the premise and realize a heart-warming dramedy is the only way to go. Initially convinced by his lawyer/bestie (Chris Pratt) to remain in the shadows, David finds himself accidentally looking at his spawns’ info, then finds himself stalking each one, invariably helping them through individual crises. For awhile it plays like a “My Name is Earl”-style comedy, with little missions that lead to triumphant endings.

That one of his first episodes involves a junkie daughter who ODs is a sign that the drama-comedy mix is way more off than expected. It’s easy to forget that Vaughn is a real actor who got pigeonholed in comedy. “Delivery Man” doesn’t exploit Vaughn’s comic chops, which is to say he’s not a motormouthed psycho, channeling bottomless energy into inspired ravings. He’s in earnest mode, and Vaughn has never found a way to meld comedy and sincerity into something that commands the screen.

Still, it’s not clear who could confidently man this rickety ship, which — like a lot of old French comedies, actually — is more theoretically amusing than laugh out loud funny. It even, like French comedies, has an unnecessary gangster subplot, if one that, thankfully, is eventually forgotten about. There are some clever narrative twists, even if one part of it is pure Idiot Plot: It turns out his myriad kids have formed a support group — and yet none of them grow hip that David is the father, even when he starts showing up with regularity at their events. Apparently David’s own thickness is genetic.

Then again, it wastes Pratt, who starts off as a strong buddy type — grumbling about his four kids while touting the values of abortion in their presence — only to reappear but infrequently. And it overloads the story to engineer an even more fuzzy finale than required. It’s not enough for David to reform by way of accepting fatherhood — his semi-estranged girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) has to also be pregnant, setting things up for a double whammy of unconcentrated heart. At first it feels like “Delivery Man” should be funnier because it boasts Vaughn; eventually it’s because things simply should be funnier in general.


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