Delivery Man (United States, 2013)November 22, 2013
Calling Delivery Man a "comedy" is a bit of a stretch, because it's rarely funny. Dumb, yes, but not in a way that's worthy of more than a half-hearted chuckle. Then again, it functions even worse as a "drama" because the production insults the viewer at regular intervals with inept manipulation. French Canadian director Ken Scott, remaking his own foreign-language film (which was called Starbuck when released into art houses in 2011), exhibits little aptitude for making viewers laugh or cry, although he's pretty good when it comes to stimulating the gag reflex.
Vince Vaughn's performance is confusing. I can't decide whether he was simply disinterested or whether he thought using this kind of a low-key approach was the appropriate way to breathe life into his loser of a character, Dave. Whatever the case, Vaughn spends the entire film seeming tired. The energy that normally invigorates even his worst efforts is entirely lacking. Although one can debate the reasons why Vaughn acts the way he does, the end result is that Dave comes across as beaten down - a condition that persists after the supposed "uplifting" scenes.
The real problem isn't Vaughn's portrayal; it's the script, which is so loaded down with artifice that it never has a chance to stay afloat, let alone soar. The premise is pregnant with possibilities, none of which are effectively realized. The backstory decrees that, some 20 years in the past, a cash-strapped Dave made money by donating more than 600 semen samples to a fertility clinic. Something went wrong (or maybe that should be "right") and Dave ended up as the biological father of more than 500 children, 140+ of whom have filed a lawsuit to overturn a confidentiality agreement and learn Dave's identity. Meanwhile, Dave's personal life is in turmoil. His girlfriend, Emma (Cobie Smulders), is pregnant but doesn't want to see him until he "finds a life." He owes $80,000 to loan sharks who are eager to collect. And the only lawyer he can afford is his sadsack friend, Brett (Chris Pratt), who has never argued a big case. However, intrigued by the situation, Dave obtains personality profiles for some of his kids and begins visiting them in secret, stalking them and revealing himself only as a helpful stranger as circumstances dictate.
Aside from the failed humor (as when Dave pretends not to be able to speak English when a lawyer visits him in his apartment), Delivery Man's most notable failing is the clumsy way in which Dave's "encounters" with his children are orchestrated. The contrivances infecting these scenes are impossible to camouflage, so the filmmakers don't make much of an attempt to try. Scott insists on following up one hard-to-swallow scene with another, and this doesn't help development of The Big Emotional Payoff. The moment of catharsis is haphazard and, in addition to being predictable, doesn't deliver in the way a sappy, saccharine-laden scene of this sort should.
Significant portions of Delivery Man seem designed to irritate viewers rather than entertain them. They're the cinematic equivalent of poison ivy. The loan shark subplot is an unwanted intrusion that serves no obvious purpose beyond establishing a plot point (why Dave would sue the fertility clinic). Viggo (Adam Chanler-Berat), the guy who learns about Dave's identity via one of the many coincidences, is so aggravating that his inclusion makes scenes borderline-watchable. Is he supposed to be funny?
Delivery Man stands accused of getting the least imaginable mileage out of an idea that could be spun into an intriguing, emotionally satisfying narrative. It also misuses its lead actor by putting him in a role that focuses on his on-camera weaknesses rather than his strengths. The studio probably doesn't have much hope for Delivery Man - opening it opposite Catching Fire is not a vote of confidence. It doesn't deserve one, either. As a feel-good audience pleaser, this is tepid. As anything else, it's rancid.
Delivery Man (United States, 2013)
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders, Andrzej Blumenfeld, Adam Chanler-Berat
Screenplay: Ken Scott
Cinematography: Eric Edwards
Music: Jon Brion
U.S. Distributor: Touchstone Pictures