Is it possible to despise a foreign-language film, but enjoy an American remake from the same director? In the case of “Delivery Man,” the answer is … Not really.
However, the mawkish Vince Vaughn comedy is, in its own way, a slightly superior film than director Ken Scott’s off-puttingly titled “Starbuck” (and I say that as a fan of Starbucks). Scott’s first attempt at this story was a French-Canadian smash, with a plot – a slacker is stunned to discover his sperm donations from two decades earlier have resulted in 533 children – seemingly tailor-made for an Americanized treatment.
“Starbuck” was a complete misfire in almost every way, an unfunny, lamely “heart-tugging” disaster. Star Patrick Huard did what he could, but the film – now streaming on Netflix – felt as contrived as a “Full House” rerun, and even less believable.
But Hollywood adores a high-concept, and lord knows “Starbuck” had one. This is the epitome of the “lovable-loser-gets-more-than-he-bargained-for-but-grows-as-a-person-and-ultimately-triumphs” genre – so who better than Vince Vaughn? (Perhaps Adam Sandler was busy.)
“Delivery Man” seems at times a shot-for-shot remake, with a few minor tweaks (Vaughn’s David Wozniak plays basketball instead of soccer, the setting is Brooklyn rather than Montreal), the overblown sentimentality is just as forced, and many of the same bad jokes make a reappearance. (David’s father: “You’re like a son to me.” David: “I … am your son.”)
But “Delivery Man” can hardly be called “Americanized.” Except for the casting, Scott has made the same film twice, and I don’t mean in the interesting, Brian De Palma sense. It is virtually the same movie.
Except, that is, for the casting. And that is why “Delivery Man” is a better film. But first, more on that oh-so-wacky plot.
Vaughn’s David Wozniak is a screw-up, a bad employee for his family’s meat business, a bad boyfriend to the sweet Emma, not a particularly great friend to his put-upon dad buddy Brett (Chris Pratt).
David’s directionless life is thrown into tumult thanks to two bits of news: Emma is pregnant with his child, and, says a sperm clinic suit, the more than 600 donations he made as a younger man (under the pseudonym Starbuck) have resulted in 533 children, and one lawsuit – the kids want to meet their father.
Soon, David faces a dilemma: Should he reveal that he is, in fact Starbuck? Or should he take his lawyer friend Brett’s advice and keep mum, or even countersue the clinic?
Unable to curtail his curiosity, David begins spying on some of his offspring, who, of course, are a lovely, varied bunch: a New York Knicks star, a wannabe actor, an adorable druggie-on-the-mend.
If you’ve seen “Starbuck,” you know what’s to come. David works to be a “guardian angel” to the kids, attempts to win back Emma, and struggles with his secret. Oh yes, there also is a tacked on, utterly pointless subplot involving $80,000 owed to some goons.
What transpires is not particularly funny, not very moving, and certainly unsurprising. But against all odds, the film is a reminder that Vaughn is capable of modest charm. The actor can be deliriously off-putting, but “Delivery Man” is a reminder he can occasionally be a cockeyed treat.
But Vaughn is not the actor who makes “Delivery Man” a more likable film than “Starbuck.” That honor goes to Pratt, the great “Parks and Recreation” star. As Brett, he is funny, dopey and utterly winning. In fact, the film’s strongest stretch is a courtroom sequence focused solely on Brett. (Perhaps a better film would feature Pratt in the lead?)
At this point, Pratt’s future looks far brighter than Vaughn’s. The same could be said about Cobie Smulders, the whip-smart star of “How I Met Your Mother.” Sadly, her role here is almost as small as her part in “The Avengers.”
So “Delivery Man” cannot be classified as a good film. Comparatively, however, it is a better one.
As for director Scott, it’s time to move on. You can only milk the story of a man whose sperm leads to 533 children so many times.
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders
Director: Ken Scott
Running time: 104 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual content, some drug material, brief violence and language.
The Lowdown: An affable underachiever discovers his anonymous donations to a sperm clinic 20 years earlier resulted in 533 children.