Vince Vaughn in "Delivery Man."
Never underestimate star power. That's the greater lesson of "Delivery Man," the comedy-drama whose more obvious takeaway is "Fatherhood is good."
Writer-director Ken Scott here remakes his French-Canadian hit "Starbuck" (itself co-written by Martin Petit and Scott), but while the original film had to get by with leading man Patrick Huard, whose default expression made him look as if he'd been repeatedly hit in the face with a shovel, "Delivery Man" benefits from the estimable comic instincts of Vince Vaughn. It's just too bad that the movie around him is squishy.
The story's high concept concerns a guy named David Wozniak (Vaughn) who used to get quick cash by frequenting a sperm-donor clinic. Turns out that the clinic's unscrupulousness led to David having 533 children, 142 of whom have come together in a class-action lawsuit to try to force him to reveal his identity. While the hapless meat-delivery man (yes, an awkward wordplay) tussles with the possibility of being forced to be a father hundreds of times over, he learns his tenuous girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) is pregnant with another of his children, and may or may not allow him to be a day-to-day presence in the kid's life.
This neat dovetailing of parental possibility pushes the irresponsible but goodhearted David into introspection. His curiosity immediately gets the best of him, and against the advice of his friend and sketchy lawyer (Chris Pratt, nailing it), David begins to stalk his way into the lives of his offspring, including an aspiring actor (Jack Reynor), a heroin addict (Britt Robertson) and a vegan misfit (Adam Chanler-Berat).
Seeing who they are doesn't so much satisfy his curiosity as spur him to reach out and help his kids get what they want or need, but the potential of his counter-suit against the clinic is too tempting, given an $80,000 debt owed to organized criminals. Adding to the paternal dramedy is David's father (Andrzej Blumenfeld), who alternates between withering glares and aw-shucks-I-love-ya advice.
There's a novelty in the concept, as made text by David ("No one on the planet has ever experienced it before"), and this remake smooths out some of the rougher edges of the original in terms of selling the hardly credible plot. And by their very presences, Vaughn and Pratt also sharpen the comedy a bit.
But with its "cast of hundreds," "Delivery Man" settles for breadth over depth when it comes to character. The priority is directly tugging on the heartstrings, with a resolution that's, inevitably, a group hug.
If you have a low tolerance for that sort of thing, steer well clear, but if you like redemptive family-values comedy, "Delivery Man" is 534 of them in one.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual content, some drug material, brief violence and language. One hour, 43 minutes.
- Peter Canavese