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Chris Pratt, left, and Vince Vaughn in a scene from Delivery Man.

Jessica Miglio/AP/Disney-DreamWorks

2 out of 4 stars

Written by
Ken Scott, Martin Petit
Directed by
Ken Scott
Starring
Vince Vaughn, Cobie Smulders, Chris Pratt
Classification
PG
Country
USA
Language
English
Year
2013

By now too obviously middle-aged to convincingly play a Swinger or a Wedding Crasher, Vince Vaughn tries fatherhood on for size in Delivery Man.

Quebec director Ken Scott's glossy yet mediocre redux of his own 2011 French-language hit Starbuck – a film that was not crying out for a remake – casts Vaughn as David Wozniak, a cash-strapped fortysomething loser who drives a meat truck for his father's delicatessen. His unsettled life gets thrown even further out of whack when he's informed that, because of a fertility-clinic mix-up, he's the biological father of 533 children. What's more, his heirs, who are all in their early 20s, have banded together to file a class-action paternity suit in the hopes of uncovering the secret of their shared heritage.

There is a relatable theme couched in this comically outlandish premise: that of self-improvement. David's panic over the legal ramifications of a discovery that makes him the world's most infamous – while for the moment still anonymous – deadbeat dad gives way to a sense of responsibility toward his progeny. With this in mind, Delivery Man can be pegged as yet another in a seemingly endless series of Apatow-era man-child redemption stories as David lurches toward self-improvement by acting as a self-styled, self-effacing "guardian angel" to his children, most of whom seem to conveniently live around the block from him in New York. (Except for a couple of extra-gawky geek types, all of David's kids look like models; perhaps the organizers of the Miss World pageant got their contestants a group rate back in the days when David was making regular deposits at the sperm bank.)

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Decked out in a slovenly array of sweatshirts and sports jerseys, Vaughn tweaks his usual overgrown-frat-boy-act slightly; this time out, his sleazy charm is accompanied by anxious strains of self-deprecation, which he gamely attempts to underact. Vaughn also generously cedes most of the funniest lines to Chris Pratt as his best pal/lawyer – a pudgy divorcée whose hangdog resignation in the presence of his four shrieking children is consistently good for a laugh. Pratt, one of the MVPs of NBC's Parks and Recreation, provides the sort of confident, relaxed comic performance that gives an otherwise mediocre movie a lift. Unfortunately, the cast's other prime-time player, How I Met Your Mother's Cobie Smulders, is wasted in a perfunctory girlfriend role; her only job, plot-wise, is to get knocked up so David can agonize over the best way to do right by his illegitimate children without losing his shot at a more conventional kind of fatherhood.

Pratt and Smulders both fit seamlessly into Delivery Man's small-screen style: At times, it feels as if we're watching a Very Special (and very long) episode of a mediocre sitcom. The director's avoidance of anything resembling innovative framing or editing will probably pay off when Delivery Man eventually airs on television, where the flimsiness of its jokes and "serious" moments alike should feel less conspicuous. Perhaps the broadcaster will be kind enough to add a laugh track in all the places where the gags fall flat.

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