‘Delivery Man’: Enjoyably American

November 21, 2013

delivery man

I was a fan of Ken Scott’s Canadian comedy, “Starbuck,” when it reached American screens earlier this year. It’s a film that managed to be witty, surprising and soulful, all at the same time.

I recall clearly checking its page on IMDB after I watched it, to find out more about Scott and the lead actor, Patrick Huard. And I can still summon the sinking feeling I had when I noticed a link to a story, announcing that not only had it been picked up by Hollywood – but that Vince Vaughn would assume the main role.

Once again, an American studio was trying to transplant a comedy from another country – and, I assumed, it would dumb it down to its lowest common denominator, robbing the original of its charm, in favor of ham-handed comedy to appeal to the mass American audience.

So this is me, admitting I was wrong. Scott, who adapted and directed the new version himself, called “Delivery Man,” has found a way to preserve the original’s delicate balance of comedy and feeling. More important, Scott found a way to tap into Vaughn’s talent, giving him a role that doesn’t require (or allow) him to riff endlessly.

Indeed, this may be the quietest, most thoughtful character Vaughn has played – and with the most restraint. He digs deep into the character of David Wozniak, letting this guy’s untapped potential slowly reveal itself, without unleashing the normal onslaught of Vaughn’s motor-mouthed mannerisms.

David drives the delivery truck for his family’s successful butcher business in New York. He works with his father (Andrzej Blumenfeld) and two brothers (Simon Delaney, Bobby Moynihan) – and he’s definitely the underachiever in the group. Indeed, David is the perpetual screw-up who, as the film begins, is deeply in debt to some bent-nose types and looking for a way to make a large chunk of cash in a hurry.

But he’s got a full plate: His girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) tells him that not only is she pregnant but that she has no interest in him being in the child’s life because he’s too unreliable. Meanwhile, he’s in charge of picking up the jerseys for the store’s basketball team in time for the team picture – and can’t even do that without having his truck towed (with the jerseys still inside).

Then a functionary from a local sperm bank shows up with mind-blowing news. Roughly 20 years earlier, David had made (and been paid for) more than 600 deposits at the sperm bank. Through a mistake at the bank, his samples were used almost exclusively for a period of time – and he’s now the father of more than 500 children.

The kicker: A couple hundred of them have made applications to discover his identity. They’re suing the sperm bank for the information.

But as David’s lawyer pal Brett (Chris Pratt) tells him, David has the basis for a lucrative countersuit, about the improper use of his sperm and the threat to his confidentiality. What he could reap would more than cover the massive debt he’s trying to put to rest.

Then his lawyer gives him an envelope filled with profiles of all his children, telling him not to read them. Of course David can’t resist.

He pulls one out at random – and learns that one of his offspring is, in fact, a star for the Knicks. So he starts tracking down others, becoming a kind of guardian angel for them – and discovering a capacity for nurturing he never knew he possessed.

Scott sticks closely to the original, trimming, adapting but ultimately hewing to even the details. His secret weapon is Vaughn, who lets his open face do the acting, rather than his propensity to ad lib. We can read his eyes and expression, giving us insight into David’s transformation and blossoming.

The laughs are still there, as is the film’s heart. Vaughn simply dials it back and lets his personality and presence speak for itself, instead of trying to talk over them.

“Delivery Man” is a solid replica of the original, a new film with pleasures of its own that draw upon the appeal of the first film. It’s a seasonal surprise – not a great film but a decidedly enjoyable one. And that’s something to cheer.

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