Funny as he can be, Vince Vaughn has stagnated over the last few years, starring in a string of underwhelming studio comedies and playing the same guy again and again. It turns out all he needed to cure the bad streak was to try something a little bit more serious. In writer/director Ken Scott’s Delivery Man, Vaughn gets the chance to branch out of his comfort zone, and while the movie as a whole has its problems it also features the star’s best performance in a long time.
An English-language remake of Scott’s own 2011 film Starbuck, the new movie tells the story of David Wozniak (Vaughn), a likable underachiever who is more than happy to just coast through life without any responsibility driving a delivery truck for his father’s butcher shop. This chosen lifestyle is rocked when he learns that his police officer girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders) has accidentally become pregnant. Things quickly go from bad to worse when a lawyer informs David that, due to many anonymous donations to a local fertility clinic years earlier, he's the genetic father of 533 children – 142 of whom have formed a class action lawsuit to reveal his identity. His first reaction is to fight the case, teaming up with his hapless lawyer friend Brett (Chris Pratt) to try and keep himself anonymous, but when he begins to get personally involved with some of his children’s lives anonymously, he begins to contemplate what it would mean to go public with his secret.
It’s an over the top premise that Scott winds up finding a lot of emotion in, painting the film as much more of a dramedy than a straight comedy. Rather than turning each of David’s kids into some kind of hyper-real gag, the writer/director instead works to bring out the humanity and reality of the characters as well as the variety in all of their individual lifestyles. As a narrative device this has hit-or-miss results. Many of the confrontations he has and the relationships he starts are great and develop both the story and David’s character, but others are too coincidentally dealing with major life issues at the exact moment that they meet the movie’s hero. This results in a good amount of unevenness in Delivery Man, but it holds itself together well enough to fly.
While Vaughn has been caught in recent years playing the same comedic character over and over again – regularly starring as the overconfident jerk - Delivery Man allows the actor to show a different side of his skills, and it’s surprisingly refreshing. Seemingly embracing the fact that he is starring in a dramedy instead of a straight comedy, Vaughn brings the energy level down, but is able to supplant it with unexpected emotion and an interesting relatabilty – which is essential in getting the story across. You laugh as David fumbles trying to play guardian angel to his “kids” – subbing in as a barista while one goes to an acting audition, going on multiple historical walking tours with a son who is a guide, and tipping a lot of money to another kid who is a street performer – but more importantly the performance makes you care about the reasons for David’s actions, the hero beginning to learn how to claim responsibility. Vaughn’s performance opens up the character of David and makes you actually care about what happens to him through his ridiculous plight.
With Vaughn playing a more subdued, straight man role most of the film’s laughs go to Pratt, who shines in the spotlight. In addition to his role as David’s less-than-stellar lawyer who suffers under the weight of his mother’s expectations, Brett is also used to showcase the mini-horrors of being a father. Many of Pratt’s scenes have him surrounded by a gaggle of kids who either comedically ignore their dad or treat his face like Play-Doh – all of which the actor rolls with perfectly to great result. As the main comic relief character Brett is the cherry role in the movie, but it doesn’t make the actor’s performance any less impressive.
In many ways Delivery Man is very similar to its main character: it has a fair number of faults that make you question its value, but ultimately you can’t help but accept it for its charm.