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Review: Delivery Man (2013)

Delivery Man (2013)

Directed by: Ken Scott

Premise: A remake of the 2011 Canadian film Starbuck. An underachieving middle aged man (Vince Vaughn) discovers that his donations to a sperm bank have resulted in 533 children. His offspring, now adults, file a lawsuit against the clinic in order to discover the identity of their biological father.

What Works: Delivery Man has at its core a compelling idea that the filmmakers are able to extrapolate into a mostly engaging motion picture. The concept of the movie is the kind of story that is just weird enough to be plausible and it raises interesting questions such as the association between parenthood and the meaning of life. Family is the through-line that connects all the various parts of this film and the picture is at its best when it focuses on those relationships. The tension between Vince Vaughn’s character and his father is credible, with actor Andrzej Blumenfeld conveying a very palatable mix of love and disappointment. Most of the offspring of Vaughn’s character are nondescript, but Britt Robertson stands out as a recovering drug addict. Robertson makes a lot of her underwritten part and stands out in a crowded movie. The emphasis on family works well for Delivery Man; as with most Vince Vaughn vehicles, the picture intends to be a heartwarming, feel-good story and it generally accomplishes that. There are moments that lay on the schmaltz a little thick but the filmmakers also show some notable restraint, particularly in the scenes in which Vaughn’s character visits a mentally and physically handicapped young man. This could get exploitative quite easily but the filmmakers handle these scenes well.

What Doesn’t: Delivery Man is an example of too much plot getting in the way of the story. There are a lot of subplots to this film; in addition to the legal storyline, Vince Vaughn’s character has a troubled romantic relationship that is complicated when his sort-of girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) announces that she is pregnant. He also owes money to a loan shark and has work trouble at his family-owned employer. Vaughn’s character also begins to investigate the lives of his children and gets involved in their troubles. The result of all these subplots is a movie that is narratively all over the place. None of these storylines are done very well, few are carried to a conclusion, and several end with deus ex machinia resolutions. Like the main character, the filmmakers of Delivery Man are distracted and do not finish anything and the movie’s haphazard structure makes the film less than satisfying. There is also a deeper problem to Delivery Man in its very conceit. The young people pursuing the lawsuit insist that they have a right to know the identity of their biological father and that this right supersedes the right of Vaughn’s character to anonymity. Were the film better structured, perhaps reconceived as an absurd courtroom drama, this idea could be given the nuance and sophistication it deserves. But because of Delivery Man’s disorganized story structure, the attempt by Vaughn’s character to protect his anonymity comes across as a selfish dodge and his offspring come across as spoiled brats. This is most notable in the subplot of a young liberal hipster played by Adam Chanler-Berat. He has has a creepy, stalker-ish demeanor and talks to Vaughn’s character as though this sperm donor owes him something. Clearly he doesn’t owe these young people anything; Vaughn’s character was not a deadbeat dad and they were not the product of a one night stand but of a consensual medical procedure. And that reveals the other curious absence of Delivery Man; the biological mothers and/or their adoptive fathers do not figure into the story at all and their absence further trivializes a complicated issue.

Bottom Line: Delivery Man is acceptable as a feel-good holiday bauble of a film. As a warm and gooey family story, Delivery Man will entertain the crowds who like this kind of thing but its story is undeniably sloppy and the issues in it deserve a much better and more thoughtful presentation than they are given here.

Episode: #468 (December 8, 2013)