On the surface, Delivery Man appears to merely be a mediocre film. After a few moments of reflection, though, one realizes that there’s something truly ugly in its heart, which is all the more off-putting since the ugliness is born from good intentions. It’s like someone trying to brew candy but accidentally creating poison instead, and then innocently passing it out to the neighborhood.
Vince Vaughn plays David Wozniak, a New York City slacker (with the requisite improbably nice apartment) who works as a delivery man for his family’s butcher shop. But, wouldn’t you know it, he’s a delivery man in more ways than one! Right after his girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) informs him that she’s pregnant, David learns that his prolific sperm donation during the early 1990’s produced over five hundred offspring. Now, around a hundred of these young adults are filing a suit to get the fertility clinic to reveal his identity to them. David decides to surreptitiously scope out as many of these kids as he can, in the hopes that he can learn something that will prove he’s ready to be a father.
The meat of the story is massively creepy. For some reason, the documents for the lawsuit that the clinic gives David contains the personal information of all of these kids. He uses this info to stalk and then anonymously interact with them. He covers a son’s shift at work, rescues a daughter when she overdoses on heroin, and gets CPR from a lifeguard son. It’s meant to be heartwarming but instead it’s excruciatingly uncomfortable. The worst part is when David meets a son with some kind of motor condition who lives in a medical facility. He takes the kid out – how is this allowed?! – and spends the day with him, and this apparently demonstrates that David is a Good Man. He ends up telling the boy that he’s his father, which I think would be more confusing than anything else. Using a disabled character as a prop is the film’s greatest sin, but not the only one.
As the movie goes on, David learns that the kids who want to find him have gone so far as to form a support group, a special collective of half-siblings. He becomes a mentor to the group yet still doesn’t reveal his true identity, and it starts to feel more like cruelty than anything else. The movie constructs a flimsy excuse – he owes the mob over a hundred grand, and believes he can pay off the debt by filing a lawsuit of his own against the fertility clinic for using his sperm so much without his permission. That subplot is brought up so little that it has no urgency at all, which is odd, given that the man’s life is in danger. And then there’s the matter of the one son who does figure out who David is, and who uses that knowledge to his advantage for a while before up and vanishing from the story.
Nothing about Delivery Man coheres. Interacting with his sort-of-spawn doesn’t serve to teach David anything. Instead, these encounters demonstrate that, even though he’s a colossal screw-up, David is actually a pretty great guy. The sheer cognitive dissonance between being told that this character is nice and the baffling deception he pulls on hundreds of people is agonizing, and it makes the story horribly anti-dramatic (yes, let’s have a character whose only arc is to learn how great he is).
All of this leads to a conclusion that’s kind of frightening. After his girlfriend gives birth, David makes his final case for why he would be a good dad and ends up giving a speech that would make any Men’s Rights Activist proud. He announces that he should have some say in whether he gets to be a father or not, the mother’s wishes be damned. It ties into the underlying philosophy that the movie espouses, which is that David has some kind of responsibility to all of these kids, because he’s their father. Except he’s not. He’s just their donor. By virtue of the entire setup of sperm donation, he has no responsibility whatsoever to these progeny, and they have nothing to expect of him. Where are all of their real parents in all of this, anyway? The movie doesn’t say, but they’re strangely absent for picnics and court proceedings.
Vaughn is trying his best to be more than a raspy-voiced schlub, and his sincerity is kind of admirable, but the role fights his goodwill at every turn. Smulders makes no impression, but she’s given absolutely nothing to do, so that’s no surprise. Chris Pratt is enjoyable as David’s harried lawyer friend, but I suspect Chris Pratt could appear in anything and still have fun with it. The movie’s sole earned emotional beats come courtesy of Polish actor Andrzej Blumenfeld, making his American debut as David’s father. He’s the kind of character who feels like he’s existing in a different, better film.
Delivery Man is a remake of the French-Canadian film Starbuck, which was released in the U.S. earlier this year. Ken Scott, who wrote and directed the original, performs the same function here. Apparently, this movie nearly matches the original scene-for-scene, which makes it pointless on top of everything else it has going against it. I’ll fully admit that the film irked me for personal reasons, but even so, one would be hard-pressed to defend it as a worthwhile movie.