Imagine an alternate history for Vince Vaughn. What if, 18 years ago, instead of rehearsing Swingers during the day and sampling Los Angeles's starlets at night, he had channeled his sexual energy into masturbating for cash at a sperm bank? He could have become Delivery Man's David Wozniak, father of 533 children, of whom 142 — just over a quarter — want to meet the mystery donor who artificially inseminated their moms.
The mothers are invisible. Sure, they bought the juice, carried the fetuses and raised the infants to adulthood. But this comedy is strictly XY. Wozniak (Vaughn), against the advice of his lawyer (Chris Pratt), Brett, decides to stalk the scions who have filed a lawsuit demanding the identity of the man behind his pseudonym, Starbuck. Doing so he meets all sorts of kids — lifeguards, historical re-enactors, buskers, drunks — each of whom seems mom-less and alone in the world with a 6-foot-5 hole in their lives that only he can fill. He's not just an onanistic slacker or a minimum-wage butcher facing a stack of parking tickets and gambling debts: He's their guardian angel.
Hollywood hails men like David Wozniak as wastrel kings. Seth Rogen, Jason Segel and Vince Vaughn descend from an ignoble line that traces back to The Dude and Spicoli. But Delivery Man hails from Quebec, where writer-director Ken Scott originally shot it with French-speaking comedian Patrick Huard, which means America has successfully exported the slacker and is now getting him bounced back to us like crabs. Scott has even dumbed it down a notch. Merde.
I'm being a little cruel to poor, dumb Delivery Man. It's no better or worse than the rest of its kin — unless you're a woman who believes in the existence of moms. But I'm also not sure why Delivery Man exists, except to appeal to a narrow Venn diagram of dude-bros who also change diapers.
Many sociologists with fancier degrees than mine have speculated about a generational collapse in masculinity. They point to the growing segment of guys who sleep in their parent's rec rooms while the percentage of college-educated males shrinks — for the last several years, six women have earned bachelor's degrees for every four men.
What will those sociologists make of this film, which suggests that grown men should mimic their kids? When he discovers that one of his ilk is a pro basketball player, David takes to the court like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. When another risks a job to follow his dreams, you realize that David has no dreams of his own, unless you count his ambition to grow weed. The flip side is that some of the kids reflect David's worst traits: They're egotistical, needy, manipulative. In one scene, he frets over whether to check a heroin-addicted daughter into rehab. The doctor says she'll relapse and die. The girl promises she won't. It's a tough moment, not that you'd know it from the sitcom music. The oboist seems to think overdoses are hilarious.
This all takes place in a Disneyland version of Brooklyn that celebrates deer heads and Hall and Oates and flocks of rosy-cheeked children. (Er, maybe it's just everyday Brooklyn.) David's brother has a newborn. Brett seems to have at least four. And they both seem to be miserable. Even David is expecting a baby of his own with his off-again, on-again girlfriend (Cobie Smulders), whom even the film can't seem to commit to as she and the unborn child disappear for reels at a time.
Scott doesn't dare ask the impossible asshole question: Perhaps David is lucky that he got to skip out on diaper-changing and orthodontist bills? But the movie can't help pitting David's friends' actual fatherly grunt work against the pleasures of only having to deal with grown-up kids on whatever casual terms you want — it seems far better to spend elective time with 142 cool, hip, good-looking young adults than to have to deal, as Brett does, with a houseful of screaming toddlers who won't go to sleep.
As for those seven score and two good-looking young adults, the film's saccharine stretches include a bucolic family "reunion" — really, an introduction. I couldn't help thinking about how confusing it would be for these lonely, same-age half-siblings, nearly all of whom look like Abercrombie & Fitch models, to RSVP to an overnight mixer where every hot stranger is hands-off. But that's another movie, one that wouldn't ever be remade for American audiences.
Let's not blame Vince Vaughn for this stale cupcake. He's halfway through his Alec Baldwin-like transition from underbaked hunk to charismatic character actor. He's barely trying to act here, but we see him trying to learn how to operate his changing body, especially a barrel chest that comes straight out of a cartoon. I've always liked him despite his frequently disastrous role choices — hell, he even braved Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of Psycho.
Vince, let's paraphrase the one intelligent thing your character says in Delivery Man, hopefully one of your last romantic comedies for a long, long time. Quoth David, "Nobody but the father can decide if he is the father or not." Replace "father" with "actor." Now grow up, go forth and make us proud.