‘Delivery Man:’ Advance Film Review

Have you ever seen a movie where a lead performance was out of synch with the rest of the film?  Let me tell you what I mean.

When I was in college back in the '90s, there was a Morgan Freeman film called Lean on Me that was in near constant rotation on HBO.  If you’ve never seen it, Lean on Me tells the story of a controversial, real-life high school principal named Joe Clark.  Clark was nationally renowned for patrolling the halls of his inner city New Jersey school, warding off drug dealers with a baseball bat.  John Avildsen, who had directed the first Rocky, was brought in to direct, and it was very apparent the producers were wanting to give Joe Clark the heroic Balboa treatment.  The thing is, nobody seemed to tell Morgan Freeman about all this.  In many ways, Freeman is like oxygen.  He’s done so much reliably strong work over the past four decades that his greatness as an artist can often be taken for granted.  In a film that exists solely as one-dimensional hero worship, Freeman gave a layered, complex performance.  His Joe Clark is kind of a D-bag, sometimes behaving in wildly unreasonable and unlikeable ways.  Clark is unreasonably obsessed with every student being able to sing the school song.  (Did my high school even have a school song?) But, the movie chugs along as if none of that is happening and that Clark is a saint.  It offers up shallow hero worship for a character (at least as he’s presented in the film) who clearly doesn’t always deserve it.  By the end of the movie, people are standing up and cheering a man you probably wouldn’t want to work for.

It think Vince Vaughn has been similarly under-served by films he’s been in over the years.   Ever since his breakout role in Swingers (another staple movie of my college years), directors seem hell bent on having Vaughn replicate that motor-mouthed, high energy work he’s so well known for.  The thing is in Swingers, Vaughn’s character was at least partially a jacka-- and the movie absolutely knew that.  Swingers was not a movie that presented an obnoxious Vaughn as a hero.  Most of the films Vaughn has made in the last decade or so think that persona is awesome when it’s sometimes borderline unbearable.  I blame you, Wedding Crashers.  It’s hard to sit through a movie that thinks its obnoxious lead character is actually really cool.  It’s a shame, because droll Vaughn is still very funny and always reminded me of Bill Murray, and favorable comparisons to Bill Murray are indeed high praise.

It’s very refreshing to report that in his latest film, Delivery Man, a more subdued Vince Vaughn shows up, and he’s quite charming and endearing.  A remake of a Canadian film called Starbuck, Delivery Man features Vaughn as David, a delivery driver for his family-owned New York City meat company.  David is a classic, underachieving man child (a staple character in modern American film comedy), disappointing to his family and girlfriend Emma (Colbie Smulders, who doesn’t get nearly enough to do) and owing money to some nefarious loan sharks.  As the film opens, David finds out that there’s been a clerical error at the sperm bank he donated to multiple times 20 years earlier.  As a result, he is the father of 533 children in their early 20s, 142 of whom have filed a class action lawsuit with the fertility clinic to learn the true identity of their biological father, whom they only know by his donor alias “Starbuck.”

David turns to the help of his lawyer friend Brett, played by the great Chris Pratt from Parks and Recreation.  Brett, who is dealing with the stresses of having several young children, tells David to, under no circumstances, look at any of the plaintiff profiles that have been provided as part of the lawsuit.  Curiosity gets the better of him, and David learns he has a son who plays for the New York Knicks.  This leads to him wanting to know more about his kids and, ultimately, leads to his anonymous intervention to help them out in their lives.

I think people who don’t like Vince Vaughn movies are going to be surprised by how winning he is here.  He still retains a very precise gift for comedic timing but adds a certain warmth to a character that blossoms when blessed with the gift of fatherhood.   Anybody who watches Parks and Recreation knows the kind of comedic mayhem Chris Pratt can provide, and he gives some really solid support in what, ultimately, works as the comedy sidekick character.  I’m not sure how I’ll see him next summer in Guardians of the Galaxy without thinking to myself, “Macklin, you son of a b---h.”

Delivery Man is a sweet movie, but it’s also very slight one.  There isn’t much in the way of dramatic tension with the big moral question David has to face being whether or not he will reveal his true identity to his kids.  He doesn’t really have anything to lose by doing it, and if you’ve ever seen a movie before you probably know how that will work out.  Still, the film has a nice message about the importance of fatherhood, both for kids as well as for the dads themselves, though it’s all right on the nose.  The only major misstep is a section in the middle where Viggo, one of the kids, figures out David’s identity and blackmails David into living with him.  Viggo isn’t very funny, and he’s really pretty creepy. I was happy when that subplot sort of fizzled out.  I feel like I’m damning with faint praise, because, ultimately, Delivery Man was a very unexpected and charming surprise for me.  It was great to like Vince Vaughn in a movie again, and I hope he sticks to roles like this and avoids garbage like Fred Claus.

I’ll admit to not seeing the original film (though I have heard very good things about it), and I always think it’s weird to make a Hollywood version of a movie that’s readily available in the English language.  I can’t speak to whether or not the original film has any more rough edges or if this new version had the rough patches sanded down.

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