By Chaz Lipp

It started off as a French Canadian film called Starbuck, which (despite the title) is not a Battlestar Galactica spin-off. Ken Scott’s comedy was about a man who anonymously donated enough sperm as a young man that he wound up the biological father of hundreds of children. It was under the alias “Starbuck” that he made the donations. The original was a Canadian hit in 2011 and spawned several remakes around the world, including India’s Vicky Donor and France’s Fonzy. In 2013, American audiences were treated to, or rather subjected to, Delivery Man starring Vince Vaughn as the anonymous donor.

Also directed by Ken Scott, Delivery Man falls flat with a mawkishly sentimental approach that squanders a potentially funny premise in favor of ersatz emotion. Vaughn plays the slobby man-child David Wozniak. David is a cutup at his family’s butcher business and is on the verge of being dumped by his policewoman girlfriend, Emma (Cobie Smulders). Emma is pregnant and can’t fathom the idea of irresponsible David being a parent. He owes tens of thousands to loan sharks. Unbeknownst to her and his family, David is served with a class action lawsuit by 142 of the 533 children his sperm helped to produce. They demand that the fertility clinic release his identity.

The big question that Delivery Man makes no effort to answer is: why? This group of young adults was apparently raised by families of their own, so what drives them to insist on knowing the confidential identity of the man who made it possible for them to exist, but who otherwise has no bearing on their lives? David hires his lawyer friend Brett (Chris Pratt) to mount a countersuit that quite legitimately makes the case that his life would be ruined by the publicity should he be “outed.” Winning the suit could allow him to pay of his debts.

Vince Vaughn and Chris Pratt

But David is privately compelled to start seeking out his “children,” performing random acts of kindness for them. He helps customers at a coffee shop so his barista “son” can attend an important acting audition. He rushes his “daughter” to an emergency room after he finds her ODing on heroin while he poses as a pizza delivery guy. Of course, he doesn’t tell any of the kids who he really is. You’d think they’d put two-and-two together once David shows up at their “Children of Starbuck” support group meeting, but they don’t.

Every plot point is telegraphed well in advance in this by-the-numbers outing. The jokes are sitcom level (make that third-rate sitcom level). The romance angle between David and Emma is flat and unbelievable. Vaughn seems more restrained here than usual (though the disc’s outtakes show this was more a result of judicious editing than a conscious choice on his part). As tired as his other 2013 flick was, at least The Internship had a little energy (and Owen Wilson). Here it’s Vaughn’s show and he’s not up to the task.

Cobie Smulders

While the Blu-ray technical specs are completely adequate (though the image is consistently a bit on the dark side, rendering detail less evident than we’ve come to expect from high definition presentation), extras are weak. “Building Family” focuses on the camaraderie between the cast members, particularly the scores of generic “offspring of Starbuck” – some of whom claim to have become sibling-like friends during production. Two blooper reels are mainly showcases for Vaughn’s improv flights of fancy. There’s also a deleted scene featuring an argument between David and Emma.

Delivery Man isn’t funny enough to be an effective comedy, nor heartwarming enough to be a feel-good drama. Its emphasis on the perceived importance of knowing one’s biological father is left unexplored.

Images: Buena Vista/Dreamworks
Chaz Lipp

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