Delivery Man is the most schizophrenic Vince Vaughn movie ever made. And it doesn't suit him. Pitched in the commercials as another one of the big guy's sophomoric romps, Delivery Man is only partly that—the other part, and it's the dominant of the film's two side, is all gooey, sappy, heart-tugging schmaltz. Did we mention gooey?
The highest of high-concept comedies, Vaughn's latest has him playing David Wozniak, a Brooklynite who works at his father's family-run meat market, is $80,000 in debt after some bad investments, and a terrible boyfriend to his generically kind-hearted and long-suffering girl, Emma (Cobie Smulders). And, as David learns one day, he's the father of 533 children, all of whom are now in either their late teens or early 20s. You see, from 1991 through 1994, David donated sperm 693 times, under the fake name "Starbuck," and through some clinic glitches, his spunk was ridiculously overused. And now 142 of those kids want to know who their father really is, so much so that they've started a support group called Starbuck Kids. They're national news, and David can't help but become their anonymous guardian angel, but, of course, his plan eventually goes haywire.
Delivery Man's thematic uncertainty is front and center in one particular scene. David has just saved one of his daughters, Kristen (Britt Robertson), from killing herself via a drug overdose. In the hospital, Kristen's doctor wants her to check into rehab, while Kristen wants no such thing. Caught in between the two women, David walks back and forth trying to reason with Kristen and the doctor…yes, meaning the entire sequence revolves around Vaughn's character helping his daughter bypass drug rehab. Which, of course, is already hilarious! But then, composer Jon Brion's goofy horns play whenever David is walking from one lady to the next, as if Delivery Man has suddenly become a Steve Martin family comedy. One about a drug-addicted girl and her father's inclination to keep her out of rehab, mind you. The scene ends with a "touching" heart-to-heart shared between David and Kristen, because director Ken Scott wants your heart, and he wants it now. But it's tough to empathize with David while feeling horrible for laughing about a teenager's drug problem.
In his mission to balance humor with heart, writer/director Scott fails by never confidently pushing the material in one direction. It's too wishy-washy, pandering to Vaughn's fan base with cheap jokes and physical humor that land with a resounding thud and manipulating other viewers with moments of sweetness that are too on-the-nose, like having one of David's sons be handicapped—Scott knows the audience will be incapable of not feeling at least something while watching David bond with him. And, to his credit, Vaughn plays those scenes well, momentarily reminding the world that, when given something to do other than be an aggressive man-child, he's not a bad actor. Think back to Into the Wild, the Sean Penn-directed story of real-life survivalist Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch) in which Vaughn subtly and effectively showed range as one of McCandless' employers.
The problem with Vaughn, though, is that, for the most part, he's resisted Into the Wild-caliber projects ever since that film's 2007 release. Instead, he's starred in one of idiotic, unfunny comedy after another: Fred Claus (2007), Four Christmases (2008), Couple's Retreat (2009), The Watch (2012), The Internship (2013). He tried mixing in some comedy-drama with Ron Howard's The Dilemma, but that film represents a nadir in the career of a director who also made Jim Carrey's ill-advised How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000). Delivery Man occupies the same "laughs with feelings" space as The Dilemma, in that it's equally as mishandled by all involved.
The question now for you, Vince, is simple: Why can't you push yourself to something other than, you know, silly comedy?
Not true. At one time, you could do no wrong. Let's ignore those poor pre-Old School performances and choices (*ahem* The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Psycho, Domestic Disturbance *ahem*) and focus on the good times. Like the just-mentioned Old School, perhaps your all-time greatest comedic showcase. Co-starring alongside the similarly overpowering funnyman Will Ferrell was a brilliant move—individually, your loud shtick can turn grating, but together, doling out winning punchlines and standout scenes to one another, you two were golden. Then, in 2004, you wisely toned the wildness down, tried the straight-man approach, and perfectly buoyed Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story while Ben Stiller, at his wackiest, pushed the overboard comedy to eleven. One year later, you struck an even stronger on-screen chemistry with Owen Wilson in the laugh-a-minute hit Wedding Crashers, returning to your less-hinged routine in its finest form.
Which leads us to your most successful attempt at merging the funny with the tender: The Break-Up, that surprisingly affecting rom-com cum drama co-starring Jennifer Aniston. In that, you're just as hilarious as you are genuinely sympathetic, especially when you and Ms. Aniston nail your respective character's anguish and disappointment spurred from romance's heaviest complications. After The Break-Up, you seemed poised for a profound comedic maturation. You know, like how Owen Wilson connected with Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris, or Adam Sandler did right by Paul Thomas Anderson in Punch-Drunk Love. Every director in Hollywood must have been clamoring to work with you—you showed them all that you had the chops, but, more crucially, you, at the time, were a box office draw.
So why in the comedy gods' names did you sign on to star in Fred Claus? At what point did the notion of playing the dimwitted foil to a CGI-small Ludacris seem like a good idea? And, trust us, we still haven't forgiven Paul Giamatti or Rachel Weisz for joining you in that holiday brain-number. Be honest here—how did you react the first time you saw Fred Claus in its entirety?
See, you know what's up. Unfortunately, you ignored every single Fred Claus note from critics and continued making painfully high-concept comedies. Giving yourself a "co-writer" credit on Couple's Retreat wasn't smart—everyone knows that movie is nothing more than a highlight reel of your all-expenses-paid vacation with good friends Jason Bateman and Jon Favreau new pals Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, and Faizon Love. Hell, it was even directed by your longtime pal and producing partner Peter Billingsley. It's almost as obnoxiously self-serving as those Grown Ups movies, but Adam Sandler has already been read the riot act here. You, sir, are the target right now.
If you haven't been half-assing it in lazy movies like Couple's Retreat in recent years, you've been sidestepping any and all creative/artistic challenges in favor of obvious retreads of past triumphs, like this summer's non-starter The Internship, a transparent Wedding Crashers wannabe that lacked the earlier film's unpredictable edge, not to mention its abundance of quality jokes. We counted only three good scenes in The Internship. Just ask Jay-Z about a "three laughs per 120 minutes" percentage.
Lest you think this is an angry pile-on, let's make one thing clear: I know you're better than The Internship, Vince. You're sure as hell better than Delivery Man. Can't you see that? Don't you want to be on your old chum Owen Wilson's level nowadays? And by that, I mean working with the likes of Woody Allen and Paul Thomas Anderson. I'm sure you've heard that Owen is co-starring in PTA's sure-to-be-dynamite Inherent Vice, his adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's funny noir that, frankly, would have been quite suitable for your talents. Why, instead of landing a project like Inherent Vice, are you making more comedies with directors Ken Scott (the recently announced Business Trip) and Peter Billingsley (the also in-development Term Life)?
And by "healthy" do you mean respectable? Or credible? Because what's "healthy" to you lately has been insufferable for your old fans like myself, those of us who were once able to forgive a mistake like playing an irritating hip-hop poser in the awful Be Cool (2005) by revisiting Swingers (1996), or Made (2001). Now, though, re-watching those older movies only makes us more livid at what you've become.
Oh, it's like that? Cool, I'm ready to fall back from seeing your future movies. If Delivery Man has any upside, it's the presence of Chris Pratt, who handily swipes the film from you despite having little to do and little to work with. Guys like him and Miles Teller—an excellent 26-year-old actor whose performance in the otherwise forgettable Hangover-for-kids misfire 21 & Over brings to mind, yes, a young Old School-era Vince Vaughn—are making it quite easy to leave you behind.
As a matter of fact, consider this your last chance. Answer this honestly: Will you ever push yourself to do something out of your comfort zone ever again?
Got it. OK, have fun getting decimated at the box office by Jennifer Lawrence and her bow-and-arrow this weekend, buddy.
Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
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