The death throes of the Vince Vaughn comedy vehicle must surely be imminent. The Internship (2013) certainly represented the sharpening of the reaper’s scythe, but Delivery Man (2013) may give it a brief stay of execution. Canadian director Ken Scott here remakes his successful French language indie Starbuck (2011), smoothing some of the rougher edges and injecting some star wattage. It’s a weak but well-intentioned picture that favours warm, gentle humour over the aggressive nastiness of the Hangover films, which plods along rather innocuously were it not for Scott’s clumsy lunges for emotional resonance.
Vaughn plays David, an affable layabout whose life is gradually coming apart at the seams. His girlfriend Emma (Avengers Assemble’s Cobie Smulders) has recently found out she’s pregnant and has told David she can’t have him around unless he changes his ways and becomes responsible. He works for the family business, driving a delivery van for his father’s butcher shop, a job which he’s only holding onto thanks to familial obligation. Out of nowhere, David finds out that he is the father of 533 children through anonymous sperm donations he made at a fertility clinic twenty years past. If that wasn’t enough, matters are further complicated when 142 of them come forward demanding to know their father’s identity.
Delivery Man’s failure lies in the gulf between the two films it’s trying to be. Certain moments feel like leftovers from a more serious-minded picture. They are the debris of the scrappier indie film that was remade into the Vince Vaughn blockbuster. Though these scenes are thankfully infrequent, nobody involved with the film is equipped to deal with the delicate subjects that are covered, not least Vaughn himself. There are times when he looks like a man at sea, staring into the middle distance hoping no one will notice his discomfort. The rest of the film is pleasantly inconsequential, but these lapses in tone sour the picture as a whole.
There are some scattered laughs, mainly thanks to the hard work done by Chris Pratt (soon to be seen in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy). Pratt is a hoot as the dim-witted Andy in the sitcom Parks & Recreation, and he proves that he can still steal a scene when wrestling with inferior writing. To his credit, Vaughn himself tones down his more abrasive qualities for the most part. The virile chatterbox of Old School (2003) and Wedding Crashers (2005) is long gone; he’s now the good- natured slacker who you know will come through in the end. It’s about time he moved on to better things; some of that Swingers (1996) mojo must surely still be in there somewhere.