It’s generally unwise to remake a foreign film as an American big-budget production a scant couple of years after the original was made. Even with the general okay-ness of Ken Scott’s Quebecois comedy Starbuck two years ago, there’s an unshakable sense going into the American studio backed remake Delivery Man that it might all be fairly redundant. But with Scott coming back to write and direct the remake, little changes for the worse and there’s actually some considerable improvements made to the story, and possibly most shocking that they come from new leading man Vince Vaughn.
Really only moving from Montreal to New York and substituting basketball for hockey in a couple of throwaway scenes, Delivery Man and Starbuck are essentially the exact same film. Vaughn (taking over for Patrick Huard) plays David Wozniak, a lifelong slacker with minimal ambition. He has a fed up pregnant girlfriend (Cobie Smulders), and his father and brothers who all work together in the same meat packing business are tired of his procrastinating, bumbling, and dangerous borrowing of money he can’t afford. In his past, David donated a lot of sperm for extra cash, but he was unaware that the clinic he donated to would give the sperm out to almost all of their clients. Now having fathered over 500 kids, with over a hundred suing to find out the identity of the biological father, David becomes conflicted. Should he let his boorish best friend and lawyer (Chris Pratt) fight the case to protect his identity, or does he want to start taking responsibility for his decisions? David dips his toes into the waters of fatherhood by meeting with the kids in secret.
The general good humour of Scott’s original carries over and translates nicely, but so too do the shortcomings. The biggest flaw of Starbuck was how with so many kids to keep track of, Scott spends the whole movie moving from story to story all too quickly. The set-up for David as a character gets truncated just to get to the main storyline, and once the now adult products of his seed are introduced one by one, the film always tantalizingly hints at a few really great ideas and the potential to do a lot more, but these people who so desperately want to get to know their father are nothing more than sketches.
The actors that portray the children that get focused on the most are all credible actors, but one wishes they had a little more to do (or that Scott could have shown some restraint and made it just about 5 or 6 kids instead of 533 just because the number sounds funnier). An actor to keep an eye on (and future Transformers star), Jack Raynor, makes the most of a few scant scenes as a surly barista who wants to become an actor. Britt Robertson has a few great scenes as a drug addict who might not want to go straight. Adam Chanler-Berat gets most of the humorous heavy lifting as an uppity philosophy spouting goth who wants to monopolize David’s time. Also, returning from the original film, is Sebastien Rene, as a young man with special needs that David seems initially taken aback by.
The support around Vaughn also offers him a bit more to play off of than Huard had in the original. Pratt obviously steals every scene he’s in with his manic comedic charms, and while it might be tempting for people doing fantasy casting to wish he was the lead in the film, he actually serves as a perfect foil to the work that Vaughn is putting in here. Smulders is kind of wasted in what still feels like a token girlfriend role, but her scenes with Vaughn are still well acted. One of the unsung heroes of the film, however, is Andrzej Blumenfeld as David’s quiet, but respectful and proud father. It’s a small role, and one that will eventually have to make some of his son’s self-imposed problems go away, but it’s a graceful performance that makes a considerable impact.
But surprisingly, the film rises above Scott’s often scattershot tendencies thanks to Vaughn, who delivers his best performance in years. In the original film, Huard’s David was a bit more of an over the top, man child doofus, which one would think plays to Vaughn’s most widely known strengths as a comedic actor. Instead, Vaughn goes a bit more introspective. David’s foibles and shortcomings aren’t really played up for laughs as much in the early going, and he’s actually kind of a tragic figure. He also sells the film’s ludicrous set up with a minimum of one-liners, and the actual look of a man trying to figure out what his current situation actually entails. The interactions that he has with his kids and loved ones feel natural instead of occasionally being played as farcical in the original.
It’s the same thing all over again, but it’s surprising just how much Vaughn is able to add to this glossier version with a higher profile. Let’s just hope Vaughn can continue back on the path to more adult roles that his coming of age here suggests.
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