Monday, November 25, 2013

Shooting Blanks On Screen But *Delivering* Off It

Vince Vaughn as David Wozniak, surrounded by some of his kids, in Ken Scott's comedy "Delivery Man", based on Mr. Scott's film "Starbuck".  Touchstone Pictures


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Monday, November 25, 2013

Canadian filmmaker Ken Scott's film "Starbuck", a brooding comedy with few laughs, was released sparingly in the U.S. back on March 23, just eight months ago, to a relative whimper among audiences.  "Starbuck" featured a man who donated sperm over a six-year period, with 533 children calling him "daddy".  "Only" 147 want to see the man in the flesh, and he wants to safeguard his privacy, as his girlfriend is expecting and he has to pay off an $80,000 debt.

Mr. Scott has now written and directed a U.S. edition of his own French-Canadian film, titled "Delivery Man", keeping the facts intact and shifting the setting to New York City, where David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn) remains a horrible delivery man in the family's butcher shop business.  Like God though, for lack of a better analogy, he's not always there but arrives right on time when it counts.

Still, David's jaw freezes, not drops, when girlfriend Emma Angelic (Cobie Smulders) says she's expecting.  Curiously, no more than two scenes later David confides in his best friend and father-of-four attorney Brett (Chris Pratt) that he really wants kids.  He creepily lurks around the children he's tracked down in a manner that pedophiles might, encouraging them to be the best they can be.

The scattershot approach of "Delivery Man", billed as a touchy-feely, poignant comedy, makes it instead an awkward, bumbling misfire.  Devoid of a genuine core, Mr. Scott's new incarnation feels antiseptic.  "Delivery Man" says more underneath its surface than its characters do explicitly.  David argues about his rights as a father to see his children -- all well considered -- but I couldn't help thinking of the women whose right to bear them or not has been suffocated in parts of America. 

"Delivery Man" wasn't rounded enough to prevent me from being distracted by that 800-pound elephant. 

The question of women, marginalized so egregiously down to Emma, an often remote and cold presence in the film, screamed loudly inside my head throughout.  Rather than take on weightier questions and shake up his remake for American audiences, Mr. Scott and co-writer Martin Petit elect to go the more predictable, cynical route, retreating to a safe position when daring to delve deeper would be logical.  "Delivery Man" also doesn't burrow down into the politics surrounding parental responsibility and the ethics of privacy the way a comedy like this should.  That's simply because the film lacks sophistry and sincerity.

Furthermore: I know this is a comedy but I couldn't help thinking, "where are the mothers of the 147 children?"  They aren't so much as mentioned.  Why do all of the children want their father at the same time?  The children all look similar in height and size despite different mothers.  Isn't that a tad strange?  "Delivery Man" also flaunts phallic symbols -- sausages -- dangling in the butcher shop, as if boastful weapons of masculinity.  Or a marking of male-dominated territory, which the film is.  Women are strangely absent, and it's mildly disturbing, to say the least.  (David's mother has passed away, too.)  It's a territory that's more celebratory than masturbatory.  Lots of sperm.  Lots of babies.  Yee-haw.  I'm a man.  I'm a manly man.  It's a bizarre mix, and this is what operates as the film's subtext.

Believe it or not, David himself has a good heart (when he's not trying to speak Spanish) but he mocks some of his donees' finished products.  (Maybe his heart isn't that good.)  In one montage sequence a daughter who is black draws a brief 1980s "Soul Man" chuckle from David, and it's meant to produce a chuckle from the audience, too.  "Delivery Man" sometimes forgets that it's a 21st century film, aligning some of its sensibility with that of Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen in the idea that, hey, what do you know?, a black child could actually be conceived through a sperm donated by a white man.  Mr. Cohen might say, "surely you jest, for it surely can't be!"

Lurking deeper beneath that Cohen perception is the imagined consternation surrounding a would-be film entitled "Delivery Brother", with Eddie Griffin in the lead as Dayshawn Williams, perpetuating a stereotype and a stigma that America has grown all-too comfortable with.  Think of the unholy satirical territory that Mr. Scott could have wadded into.  Even that would have been better and more interesting than what he's reproduced here. 

To the filmmakers of "Delivery Man" I don't even ask, "where's the beef?"  I wonder: where's the meat on the bones of your movie?

Also with: Andrzej Blumenfield, Simon Delaney, Bobby Moynihan, Adam Chanler-Berat, Britt Robertson.

"Delivery Man" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for thematic elements, sexual content, some drug material, brief violence and language.  The film's running time is one hour and forty-three minutes. 

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