Father of the year

Naturally, there’s a sausage joke in here somewhere.

Naturally, there’s a sausage joke in here somewhere.

Rated 2.0

I must have a higher tolerance for Vince Vaughn than other moviegoers. Many are put off by his motormouth free-association riffs, his film persona of boundless, unjustified confidence marinated in defiant, clueless aplomb. They tolerate Vaughn only insofar as he serves as companion or foil to a more sympathetic co-star—Owen Wilson in Wedding Crashers or The Internship, Ben Stiller in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story or The Watch, or Reese Witherspoon in Four Christmases.

There’s a good actor lurking under Vaughn’s Midwestern crust, a better one than you might expect from vehicles like the dismal Fred Claus or Gus Van Sant’s harebrained photocopy of Psycho. That’s the Vaughn on display in Delivery Man, and that’s why I enjoyed it. I was tempted to pop an extra star onto this review’s rating, but in good conscience, I can’t; Delivery Man isn’t good. In fact, it’s barely a notch above idiotic. And the only reason to see it is an unshakeable affection for Vince Vaughn.

Vaughn plays David Wozniak, slacker scion of a family-owned New York meat-supply business. He’s $100,000 in debt to loan sharks; director Ken Scott’s script never tells us why, though it may have something to do with his scheme to run a hydroponic marijuana farm in his apartment. In any case, his family knows David can’t be depended on for even the simplest things.

So does his girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders). Emma’s a cop, a fact Scott drops on us without explaining why she would hook up with a 40-something pot grower. Anyhow, she did, and now she’s pregnant. She breaks this news to him when he shows up on her doorstep at 3 a.m. after standing her up earlier that night.

That’s not all. When David comes home one day, he finds a man in his apartment. David wields a baseball bat, repeatedly insisting, “Yo no soy David Wozniak,” but the man isn’t fooled. He’s the lawyer for a fertility clinic. Some 23 years earlier, David made a series of sperm donations to this clinic for money, using the pseudonym “Starbuck.” Hundreds of donations, in fact, and through some slipup—yet another thing that the script doesn’t trouble to explain—David’s seminal torrent resulted in some 533 live births. Now, 142 of those young adults have joined in a class-action lawsuit to peel off Starbuck’s layer of anonymity and learn the identity of their biological father.

The lawyer leaves a packet containing the profiles of the 142 plaintiffs with David. David’s friend Brett (Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt) urges David not to open the packet. (Brett has four kids of his own and appears to be some sort of attorney, possibly disbarred—yet again, not explained.)

The thought of all those sons and daughters out there—and the one that’s on the way—sparks a sudden sense of responsibility in David. He throws out all his pot plants. He not only opens the packet and removes the profiles of the plaintiffs, he tacks them up on his wall. He sets out to look up his “children” one by one—one, a coffee-shop barista and aspiring actor; another, a museum docent and history re-enactor; a third, a street musician; a fourth, an addict trying to clean out; a fifth, severely disabled and institutionalized—and serve as a “guardian angel” to them. He even stumbles into a meeting of the plaintiffs, where he passes himself off as the adoptive father of the disabled one, who naturally can’t attend (though he was somehow able to join the lawsuit).

This mention of an adoptive father brings up a question that, on top of everything else it doesn’t explain, proves fatal to Scott’s script: Where are the people who raised all these offspring? Never mind adoptive fathers, where are the mothers? In the bizarro world of Delivery Man, they have no stake in the outcome; not one of them is there to support or oppose. They simply don’t exist.

Delivery Man is a remake of a 2011 French-Canadian movie, Starbuck. Ken Scott directed that one, too, and co-wrote it with Martin Petit. Reliable reports say the remake is virtually a word-for-word translation into English. Astonishingly, the script for Starbuck won a Canadian Genie Award.

Well, maybe it played better in French. In English, it has nothing to recommend it but Vince Vaughn. Maybe that’s enough.