Treacle has its place at the movies, and sometimes it’s even a welcome alternative to the bombast and spectacle of superficial tentpole entertainment. But the new Vince Vaughn movie Delivery Man wields sentimentality like a hatchet, trying to bludgeon the audience into feeling something despite a premise that’s completely irresponsible. A remake of a French-Canadian film that, by all accounts, was vastly superior to this shameless, manipulative tripe, Delivery Man is the worst kind of Hollywood garbage: a movie that sacrifices its star’s greatest skills in order to score a middle-of-the-road hit that neither successfully explores its premise nor makes him look good.
Vaughn (The Internship) plays David, a lovable but feckless meat truck driver who learns that sperm donations he made in his early 20s produced 533 children, 162 of whom are suing the fertility clinic to learn his identity. Despite his determination to remain anonymous, David begins quietly investigating the children after his best friend Brett (Chris Pratt) hands him an envelope full of dossiers about them. But after his girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders) announces she‘s pregnant and uninterested in having him involved in the child’s upbringing, David becomes determined to prove to her that he can be responsible by entering his kids’ lives and helping them solve their problems.
Although I knew the film was based on a previous work, I entered Delivery Man thinking that it was based on true events – which might have been the only excuse for the completely irresponsible handling of its premise. In fact adapted from the fiction film Starbuck, the comedy basically operates on the premise that children sired by donated sperm apparently don’t have parents who raised and loved them, and further, aren’t complete people without meeting the man who supplied DNA. Except for one another, these children have seemingly no one to help or support them, until David magically enters their lives and provides them with the crucial kind of assistance that turns things around.
Moreover, Delivery Man is a film where literally not one character has two visible parents, except for “potentially” David and Emma. David’s mother is dead, Brett’s wife is a complete absentee – a career woman who is evidently cheating on him — and his married brothers talk constantly about kids and family but we never see their significant others. What does that mean, or what does the film have to say about that idea? Nothing. Even worse is that the only mother in the film, Emma, is virtually a ghost, except when she’s fretting over David’s consistent irresponsibility.
But the film’s wrongheaded ideas about what constitutes “responsibility” and its judgments of David’s decision to donate sperm are the most problematic, and even offensive. As publicity mounts about the lawsuit and reports of his donations hit the media, everyone seems to have an opinion about it – and it’s the same one, which is that he’s disgusting or horrible. We do find out “why” he decided to do it, but even if he just wanted money, so what? And now that his sperm has produced 500-plus children, is he responsible for them? The movie suggests he is, which is preposterous and outdated – at best.
Meanwhile, the central thrust of David’s journey is that he’s generally irresponsible – doesn’t follow through when people need him, isn’t there, fails, has debts, etc. So he decides to prove he “has a life,” and he’s responsible by entering each of his children’s lives for a day or two, helping them out, and then moving on to the next one. Notwithstanding the fact that he has a job delivering meat that he is absolutely, indisputably ignoring to help these kids, how does that constitute a change? Of course, the movie indicates he’s endlessly generous and lovable, but there’s virtually no evidence he has actually changed or really learned anything by the end.
Given the pedigree for more serious work he established in the late 1990s with great, underrated movies like A Cool, Dry Place and Prime Gig, it’s understandable why Vaughn would tone down his usual manic improvisation to play this role more straight and sympathetic. But the movie feels like it’s afraid to try big jokes, and Vaughn comes off as restrained in a way that doesn’t suit him – as if director Ken Scott chopped out all of his improvisation and demanded he simply act out the script as it was written. Regardless of what went on behind the scenes, however, what’s on the screen is massively disappointing, and anyone whose parents might have needed to use artificial insemination to have them should be insulted.
Ultimately, Vaughn’s film is neither comedy nor drama, even though it was trying to be both. A shambling and misguided tribute to fatherhood that validates every hurtful preconception about adoptees or “parentless” children, Delivery Man is stillborn storytelling, and one of the year’s worst films.
Delivery Man opens Friday nationwide.
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