The instant problem when a new remake is released is the inevitable comparisons to the original film. I had never watched Starbuck in its entirety, but knew more than enough about it when it was announced that original co-writer/director Ken Scott would be remaking the French-Canadian film in English. But that begs the question: would it really be necessary to examine the original work before watching the new one, or would it be more appropriate to watch the new film on its own first? In the case of Delivery Man, it may have been better to not watch the original first.
David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn) is a bit of a loser. He delivers meat for his family’s butcher shop, he owes $80,000 to shady characters, and his girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders) is pregnant. If that wasn’t bad enough, David finds out that a mix-up with sperm donations he made in the early 1990’s has led to his fathering if 533 children – and 142 of them are suing the clinic to find out his identity. Not sure what to do, David stays quiet, but begins exploring and learning more about the children he never knew he had.
Without question, Delivery Man is one of the most mundane and uninspiring remakes I have seen in many years. Scott has stripped away the majority of sexual and darker content from the original script, relocated the story from Montreal to New York, and revised a few names and phrases. Outside of those changes, the film is practically a shot-for-shot remake of Starbuck, with a few alternate angles for good measure. Instead of trying to make something a little more unique and different, Scott literally just made the movie in English with an even less charismatic lead. The jokes are less funny this time around too, as the Google translator must have not indicated that Quebecois humour is significantly different than American.
But all of this would have been easily forgiven had it not been for the complete lack of heart in this film. Starbuck is a film that is diverting and cutesy at best. But the raw emotion and heart on display throughout, especially from lead Patrick Huard, is nothing short of extraordinary. Delivery Man does not have either of those elements. It plays everything by the numbers, and zooms along with no real care for how certain moments look or sound. A climactic sequence between David and Emma in the original film (then named Valérie) is poignant and touching. The same scene here, involving the exact same dialogue, is rushed and indifferent. Yes, the cast and crew are allowed to make different decisions from their predecessors, but to the point of dramatically reinterpreting an entire scene? Like so many other scenes in the film, it is seriously lacking the zest and lasting impression of Starbuck. And despite the few and far between good moments in the film, the overall product feels like it all amounts to being a huge waste of time for everyone involved.
Vaughn, who was seen (or more likely not seen) earlier this year in The Internship, does what he can to shine as David. He makes the character into a loveable slacker and has enough gravitas to make the audience care about his bizarre plight. But he has practically no chemistry with anyone in the film, and with every passing scene, he looks more awkward and out of place than the next. He is rather obviously not right for the part, but it is doubtful that anyone in Hollywood would have been able to match up to Huard’s attitude and nuanced performance. Much like Scott’s direction, Vaughn’s performance is just a recreation of Huard’s – it has no soul or particular defining trait. But at least we care as an audience about Vaughn; the less said about the horrifically underused Smulders, the better. Just about anyone could have been cast in her thankless and near useless role. The same problem affected Julie LeBreton in Starbuck, but at least she made some sort of attempt at making some sort of impact.
Chris Pratt is just about the redeeming feature here, playing David’s best friend and lawyer Brett. He outshines Vaughn and just about everyone else on-screen at every turn, making each line funnier than the last. His interactions with his children are easily the best scenes in the film. While you can recall Antoine Bertrand’s work in the original role, Pratt does a great job making the performance his own. Unlike everyone else, he appears to actually care about not phoning this one in. I am not used to seeing him as such a sarcastic wise-ass, but I can only hope this signals great things for his leading turn in Guardians of the Galaxy next summer.
Delivery Man is not a horrible film by any means. It still has the message of Starbuck and manages to delight in small capacities. But it lacks the heart and soul of that original film. Even with the original director at the helm, the remake can never come to terms with equaling how emotional and honest an experience that film was. I do regret watching the entirety of Starbuck in advance of watching this film, but I think I would regret it more not knowing how it could have been done right.