Ken Scott’s French-Canadian film Starback (2011) tells the story of David Wozniak, a forty-something, meat delivery man who in his twenties received a generous second income from his contribution to a local sperm bank. When the hundreds of kids that he has brought into the world come a-calling, David must decide if he should be involved in their lives or not.
Just two years later Scott is back with the US adaptation of his own film, The Delivery Man. Vince Vaughan fleshes out David as a soft round the edges, inoffensive middle aged man living in a trendy loft space, heavily indebted and attached to a dubious girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) Just as with its predecessor, David’s troubles catch up with him as the sperm bank that he had been contributing to under the alias ‘Starbuck’ has received legal notice from the 533 children that he has co-created, that they want to find out who their father is.
Meanwhile Smulders’ Emma reveals that she is pregnant with David’s baby and a stereotypical bunch of debt collectors appear to bully him into paying up his mounting debt. To help relieve the burden he turns to his friend and lawyer Brett (Chris Pratt) for advice, which is met with strict instruction not to reciprocate his children’s requests. Of course he chooses to ignore any such advice, and what he finds is a collection of underachieving twenty somethings that all appear to need a leg up – and in many cases, a father figure. Before he knows it, David is providing favours for these hapless youths whilst in turn proving to Emma that he’s becoming a suitable father for their unborn child.
Vaughan is on standard form here, a personified “what are you gonna do?” shrug who doesn’t deserve the hand that he’s been dealt. Except in this case he does, through a string of bad business ventures, tardiness and irresponsibility. His shuffling sighing disposition however invokes some sympathy and wills him to do right by his multiple wrongs. It seems patronising a man that has monumentally mucked up his life is offering sage wisdom to his unbeknownst offspring, but there is a father like quality to Vaughan’s David and the nurturing side to him is believable.
Plot wise The Delivery Man is too busy. The pregnant girlfriend and loan shark sub plots are crammed in alongside the main story in rushed sporadic segments. Had this been evenly spread the impact of David’s money problems or his growing relationship with Emma would have been larger, but instead they serve merely as catalysts for the main story, which is inarguably more interesting, but not enough on its own. It also underuses Smulders, whose comedic background and girl next door quality could have brought her character more justice.
Although the intentions of this story are heartfelt - a group of young people, all willing to take advice from a complete stranger who has turned up on their doorsteps, lacks credibility, especially as the man doing the talking is wearing an outfit a generation younger than he is. Vaughan does little to step outside of his spongey persona and though he’s undoubtedly sincere, it comes across a little bland, relying on the kind words of others to build his character.
While the subject matter of The Delivery Man is poignant and a happy ending is seemingly imminent, it lacks the emotive drive for a highly emotive story and regrettably falls under the burden of fussy sub narratives, resulting in a slack and uninspiring adaptation.