These days, one gets ready for a Vince Vaughn movie by putting on a mental rubber apron if not an actual hazmat suit: The flying spittle and motor-mouthed line delivery can have a moviegoer ducking for cover. But “Delivery Man” offers a kinder, gentler Vaughn in a pleasantly ramshackle comedy several rungs below his usual fare in both budget and high-concept assault.
Consumer warning: If you saw the 2011 French-Canadian film “Starbuck,” you don’t need to see “Delivery Man,” since it’s the exact same movie, translated into English and brought to the screen by the original’s co-writer/director Ken Scott. The scenes are identical, the dialogue is identical, and the setup is definitely identical: A kind-hearted loser (Patrick Huard in the original, Vaughn in the remake) learns he has 533 grown children, sired from sperm he donated two decades earlier.
This sort of stunt — bring a foreign director to Hollywood to remake his own movie — generally doesn’t turn out well, as anyone knows who remembers the Dutch and American versions of “The Vanishing.” But the sloppy, feel-good “Starbuck” was hardly a work of art to begin with, and “Delivery Man” is a decent approximation in every sense of the adjective because its aims remain modest. Maybe it’s a big American studio movie for its maker, but it’s a rumpled little indie for its star.
Vaughn’s character, David Wozniak, is a New York schmo who drives a van for the family meat delivery business, has a stern immigrant father (Andrzej Blumenfeld), and has a cop girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) who, while pregnant, is weary of his general uselessness. But he’s a nice guy — this is a new Vince Vaughn — and when a lawyer for the sperm clinic (Damian Young) tells him 142 of his children are suing to reveal the identity of the man they know only as “Starbuck,” David is intrigued. His best friend (Chris Pratt), a harried single dad and occasional lawyer, warns him not to look at the personal profiles the kids have written, but David can’t resist. Soon he’s stalking their lives and trying to improve them.
“Delivery Man” is predictable but likable, schmaltzy but sweet. You put up with the script’s many improbabilities — the daughter who’s addicted to heroin (Britt Robertson) but quits cold turkey without any fuss; the severely mentally disabled son (Sébastien René) who wrote a personal profile how? — because the vibe is inclusive and generous. And Vaughn in low-voltage mode wins you over; he benefits from not having one of his frat bros (Owen Wilson, Kevin James, Jon Favreau — whoever) to high-five.
Believable? Not for a second, and Scott seems to have left his visual style in Quebec. But given the cynicism attending most new movies, either on the screen or behind it, it’s startling to find one that’s not afraid to be nice. David’s truck deliveries take twice as long as they should — one of his brothers calls it “taking the meat out for a drive” — but only because he likes to talk to everyone he meets. So does this movie. It’s a dog, really, but one that knocks you over and licks your face.