‘Nobody embarrasses themselves, nobody takes any risks. It’s all so disappointingly bland’ – Delivery Man fails to deliver, says MacDara Conroy
Delivery Man is an utterly unremarkable film. And if I didn’t have to write a full review, I’d leave it at that. In fact, why even bother reading what I have to say about it when you can just watch the trailer yourself and see the whole thing in digest form (let me reel myself in there before I go off on a tangent about how modern-day trailers are ruining cinema by trading teasers for complete summaries, lest idiot audiences not know exactly what they’re getting into for their 10 or 15 bucks or whatever). If you’ve done so, and you’re still reading, then congratulations: you’ve just seen a 90-minute comedy-drama distilled down to just 150 seconds, without losing much of anything. Now sure, you could probably list dozens of classic films that can be broken down to the elevator pitch – Jaws is ‘killer shark’, Alien is ‘Jaws in space’, etc – but the finished products are so much more than the sum of their parts; that’s why they’re classics. The thing about the trailer for Delivery Man is that that’s the whole movie. Now that’s remarkable.
Actually, let me take back my first sentence: there are two specific things about Delivery Man that are worth talking about. The first is the presence of Vince Vaughn in the lead role as a 40-something slacker whose early-20s money-grubbing efforts at the local sperm bank have come back to haunt him as the children he anonymously sired demand his identity be revealed through the courts (of course you already know all that, and the rest, if you watched that trailer). At least it’s supposed to be Vince Vaughn. That’s his name on the poster and in the credits, but the bloated guy on screen looks like someone took the Vince Vaughn of the ’90s and pumped him up like a water balloon. He looks like one of those grotesque, mutated forms in a budget waxworks museum. He’s verging on Arnie on the surface of Mars in Total Recall. It’s deeply weird, uncanny valley shit.
The second thing to note is that Delivery Man is an almost beat-for-beat remake of a very recent French-Canadian film called Starbuck, named for a stud ranch bull of some local repute that provides the main character’s nom de wank. Apart from some necessary cultural-relevance conversions – Montréal becomes Brooklyn, soccer becomes basketball and so on – and a toning down of more bawdy dialogue and kitchen-sink drama, Delivery Man retains the original’s plot with nary a change. Like Starbuck‘s version portrayed by Patrick Huard, Vaughn’s David Wozniak can’t resist a peek into the lives of the kids – by now fully grown – that he’s unknowingly fathered, distracting from his own impending (and more conventional) fatherhood. Even Vaughan’s pseudonym is still ‘Starbuck’, despite zero nod to a reference only obvious to Québecois.
What the remake doesn’t retain (despite being helmed by the same director, Ken Scott) is any of the original’s scrappy charm, or sense of veracity in spite of the exaggerated premise. Delivery Man is Starbuck put through the Hollywood machine, smoothing out the edges to emphasise the schmaltz over the chutzpah, so that even the original’s more tender moments – such as David’s connection with the profoundly disabled Raphael (Sébastien René, who reprises his role in the remake as Ryan) – come across in the Americanised version as more manipulative than they ought to be. Still, Vaughn, as odd as he looks, has charisma in spades (that must be his secret) and the supporting cast supports just fine, in particular Chris Pratt as the best-friend-cum-lawyer who anchors some of the film’s more amusing scenes.
But there isn’t the same, natural rapport shared by Starbuck‘s cast of unknowns. Vaughn, Pratt, love interest Cobie Smulders and the rest play their individual parts acceptably and nothing more. Nobody embarrasses themselves, nobody takes any risks. It’s all so disappointingly bland, which seems to be one of only two default settings for common-denominator comedy from Tinseltown today, the other being offensively crass in the vein of Grown Ups 2. At least Delivery Man didn’t take that route – can you imagine? No, better not – but I can’t, in good faith, recommend anyone spend money to see it on the big screen, especially when this is Oscar season and there’s a surfeit of quality cinema to choose from at the multiplex. Better yet, seek out the original Starbuck (if you’re not averse to subtitles) for a warmer, less cynical take on the same material.