Chris Pratt walks off with most of what’s memorable about Delivery Man, Ken Scott’s Hollywood remake of his modest Canadian hit Starbuck. The Parks & Recreation staple plays Brett, the schlubby lawyer and best friend of David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn), a dull New Yorker who, because of some 600 sperm donations he made years ago, turns out to be the father of 533 children. To make matters worse, a portion of the children are now demanding the clinic to reveal the identity of the ostensibly anonymous donor. The very image of deflated parenthood, Pratt is able to summon all the fears, disappointment, compromises, and exhaustion of child-rearing that barely bristle David when he finds out his girlfriend (Colbie Smulders) is pregnant and looking for his full attention, which he’s busy dispersing to the expansive brood he unknowingly sired.
It’s interesting to watch Pratt find laughs with such seeming effortlessness in Scott’s wonky script, especially with Vaughn, who has similarly been the standout in otherwise mediocre films. The breadth of Vaughn’s gregarious persona has never been given free reign by any director and this certainly isn’t the game-changer. David is amiable but unremarkable, and though that may be the very point at the start, nothing happens to justify us watching this not-so-lovable oaf. In adapting his original script, which he co-authored with Martin Petit, Scott hasn’t altered much of the Starbuck narrative, and like the original, Delivery Man is all plot and almost no character. Along with dealing with a small township of offspring, a highly publicized lawsuit, and the impending birth of his 534th child, David is also in debt to the mafia and must deal with the ebb and flow of his family’s butcher business.
The mafia subplot feels especially tacked-on to lend life-and-death stakes to a muddled plot, and when violence is visited upon David in relation to the debt, it feels jarringly out of place. The gangsters also rough up his father (Andrzej Blumenfeld), though it goes unseen, and his relatively quick forgiveness of David for incurring this beating ties into Scott’s feelings on parental responsibility. There are no limits to parental instinct in the film, which isn’t an unpopular opinion, but Scott never gives a solid sense of what’s sacrificed for that responsibility. For all the damage and drama that David’s aimlessness causes, there’s very little about his temperament or philosophy that changes over the course of the story. The consequences of his erratic behavior are negligible, which allows Scott to sloppily sculpt David as a sympathetic figure of dimwitted decency.
Scott goes as far as to crassly focus on David’s relationship with one biological son with a developmental disability to fully telegraph the importance of David’s good nature. There’s also a heroin addict (Britt Robertson), a fledgling actor (Jack Reynor), and a high-strung vegan (Adam Chanler-Berat) who are beneficiaries of David’s myriad donations. None of them, however, serve much purpose beyond setting up comic scenarios for Vaughn to shamble through. Scott peddles in a certain lukewarm sentimentalism that ruins his cast’s comedic snap, and for no reason other than reiterating the (largely unquestioned) greatness of paternity. Mind you, it’s only paternity that matters to Scott, and he shapes its manifold challenges with rote, manipulative dramatic turns. Still, it would seem that Scott has at least written his hero from a personal place: The writer-director seems well on his way to spawning numerous works with all the effort and personal involvement of a lengthy bout of pud pulling.