Child’s Play, by David Bax
Ken Scott’s Delivery Man, a remake of the director’s very own French Canadian film Starbuck, is what you’d call a high-concept comedy. As such, it has to work a little harder to earn our suspension of disbelief. Scott’s forehead-slapping blunder is that he does enough legwork to get us to buy the movie’s premise and then completely fumbles any attempt to make the characters’ reaction to it understandable or believable.
Vince Vaughn plays David Wozniak, a New York man who delivers meat for his family’s butcher business. He has a girlfriend named Emma (Cobie Smulders) but likely not for long. He’s stopped inviting her over to his place because he doesn’t want her to know he’s secretly growing marijuana so he can sell it and earn the $80,000 he owes to some unspecified, shady organized crime outfit. So things aren’t going that well for him when he finds out that the sperm he routinely donated to earn cash in his early twenties was overused to an irresponsible extent, making him the biological father of 533 human beings, 142 of whom have filed a class action lawsuit against the clinic demanding to know David’s identity.
Here’s where things start to get hairy. David’s best friend is a lawyer (whose isn’t?) who decides to take the case. Except that doesn’t make sense because David’s not being sued; the clinic is. Still, let us soldier on. The 142 young men and women in question provide the lawyer, Brett (Chris Pratt), with short bios of themselves, in an attempt to persuade David to reveal himself. Brett instructs David in no uncertain terms to never look at these profiles. You see, Brett is adamant that David cannot come forward. Why? I honestly don’t know. Again, David is not being sued. But let’s proceed. David obviously opens the manila envelope carrying his progeny’s name, photos, occupations, turn-ons and turn-offs and he begins to show up in their lives without letting them know who he is. It’s clear that he wants to get to know them and wishes he could speak up. But he can’t. Why? I do not know, other than the fact that it’s the central conflict of the film and because Brett keeps telling him so.
It’s this lack of motivation, not the concept of a single donor creating over 500 offspring, that is the actual false premise of Delivery Man. If only that were its sole problem. The film feels like it was designed to be a wry dramedy but the inclusion of Vaughn pushes it over the genre line, which means that every so often, everything comes to a sudden stop so the lead character can riff for a little while. Delivery Man is not a comedy. It’s a film with comedy laid on top of it like American cheese on a hot dog.
Given that the film is slapped together with all the structural integrity of a pillow fort, each and every grasp for sentimental impact reads as cynical; none more so than the introduction of one of David’s offspring, a mentally disabled young man living in a care home. It’s not only mawkish and insulting, it becomes ludicrous when David injects himself into the guy’s life with jaw-dropping ease. Maybe in Canada, you can show up at a facility such as this and say, “Hey, I know one of these kids. I’m just gonna take him camping for the weekend.” But I doubt it. David then pretends to be the boy’s father to sneak into meetings of the class action participants. But the seemingly inevitable scene where he is confronted by the actual father never transpires. Things tend to go David’s way in this movie in a manner that is anathema to conflict and comedy.
It all culminates in a speech that’s meant to tie Delivery Man’s themes together but seems to be as haphazard and unconsidered as it, well, probably was. David’s assertion that it’s up to fathers to decide if they’re going to be fathers seems to neglect the inconvenient fact that most of these 533 people did have dads who did decide to do their job. In much the same way as he earned cash as a young man, David is taking the easy route. The rest of the film follows suit.