Since Vince Vaughn's breakout performance in Swingers, audiences have come to expect certain things when he appears onscreen. Manic energy and a snarky attitude have been the actor's main character traits in so many movies crafted by lazy filmmakers that it's easy to mistake Vaughn as being responsible. So it comes as a small surprise that Delivery Man, a remake of the French-Canadian hit Starbuck, offers Vaughn his most nuanced starring role in more than a decade.
Vaughn plays David Wozniak, a meat delivery driver for his family's business in Manhattan. As the film opens, David is already under duress from a six-figure debt he owes to the mob and the revelation that his cop girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) is pregnant.
A lawyer representing a sperm donor facility David frequented more than two decades earlier reveals that, because of an administrative mistake, he is the father of more than 100 children, which seems like the cue for Vaughn's trademark antics. But writer-director Ken Scott has other ideas.
Scott, who was responsible for the original Canadian hit, has written a script that allows David's relative goodness to shine through slowly but steadily. Acquiring a packet of information about his children from his best friend and lawyer (Chris Pratt), David pulls one out at random and finds he is the father of a New York Knicks star. It would be easy to assume this is setting up a tired Hollywood comedy in which all of the kids are shown to be superstar athletes or artists of amazing skill. Instead, Scott lets the situation slowly evolve, allowing the kids to have their own personalities and skills.
All of these unexpected merits are not meant to suggest that Delivery Man is great; hell, it's hard to definitively qualify it as good. While Vaughn definitely allows Scott to tone down his antics, there's clearly a reason the actor doesn't appear in many dramas. He may be surprisingly "real" here, but Vaughn is still a weak actor barely able to rise to the occasion.
For all of the admiration due to Scott for his work with Vaughn, his script still can't rise above the solutions given to conflicts in a mediocre television sitcom. If the kids want to find out David's identity, do you really think they're not going to, regardless of a judge's ruling? If David and his girlfriend have a big fight with only five minutes left in the film, who in the audience actually believes a studio would accept an unhappy ending for a major release? Such predictability brings Delivery Man down in the end.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Man trouble."