Ken Scott’s French-language comedy Starbuck shattered box office records in its native Canada last year, so it seemed inevitable that an English-language remake from Canada’s neighbors to the south would not be far behind. Crowd-pleasing though it was, Starbuck is pretty insufferable, and while its flaws haven’t gone away in the American version, Delivery Man, the acting does make it only mildly painful and even somewhat enjoyable.
Vince Vaughn portrays Dave Wozniak, an unreliable, incompetent truck driver for his dad’s Brooklyn meat business. His world is turned upside-down one day when a lawyer (Damian Young) informs him that due to malpractice at a fertility clinic where Dave donated sperm in the early 1990s, Dave has sired 533 children, many of whom now want to know about their biological father.
The early part of the film features Dave shadowing his offspring and intervening in their lives without revealing his identity, helping one (Jack Reynor) get his big break as an aspiring actor, saving another one (Britt Robertson) from a drug overdose, cheering on a third (Kevin Hopkins) as he plays for the New York Knicks, and spending a day dutifully wheeling around a fourth (Sébastien René) who suffers from cerebral palsy. The whole movie could have easily been about Dave acting as a fairy godmother to his unsuspecting kids, so I’m not sure why Scott goes off in other directions involving Dave owing money to leg-breakers for the mob, impregnating his sometime girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) the old-fashioned way, or having “Starbuck” — the alias he used to disguise his identity as a sperm donor — become an international news story. There’s also a promising storyline with one of the kids, a self-righteous left-wing activist named Viggo (Adam Chanler-Berat), finding out about Dave and trying to hog him for himself. It goes nowhere.
Fortunately, we get a marvelously understated performance from Andrzej Blumenfeld as Dave’s Polish émigré dad, who sees his screwed-up son’s virtues more clearly than anybody else. There’s also an electric comic turn by Chris Pratt as Dave’s best friend and lawyer, who’s been beaten down by raising four kids of his own and can’t believe Dave would embrace fathering enough kids to almost fill both houses of Congress. Pratt’s a big, burly, handsome guy with a flair for comic understatement, a rarer combination than you might think. Someone really ought to give him a comedy to star in.
Still, what makes the drama work more than anything is the lost look that frequently comes into Vaughn’s eyes here. Vaughn achieved stardom by playing fast-talking motormouths in comedies like this one, but here he’s playing a guy who fully grasps just how bad he is at life and snatches at his unorthodox fatherhood as a way of straightening himself out. Vaughn started out as a dramatic actor and was a pretty good one (see 1998’s Return to Paradise). If he can tap into those instincts again the way he does in Delivery Man, his career as a funny man might yet be salvageable.
Starring Vince Vaughn and Chris Pratt. Written and directed by Ken Scott, based on Ken Scott and Martin Petit’s screenplay. Rated R.