When possible, I like to prepare for movies by reading or watching the source material because they can provide a better understanding of their adaptation or remake. On Monday night, I watched Ken Scott’s Starbuck on Netflix Instant. It was pleasant and undemanding. The following night, I went to go see the remake, Delivery Man (also directed by Scott), and discovered I had seen almost the exact same movie in less than 24 hours. The original didn’t warrant a second viewing, and yet there I was, watching it again except this time it was in English and had actors I’d seen in other movies. It was one of the most pointless moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had.
David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn) is a bland guy (we’re told he’s nice but “inoffensive” would be a more accurate description) who can’t get his act together. He owes bad people $80,000, he’s the black sheep of his family, his pregnant girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders) doesn’t want him in her life, and he can’t even manage something as simple as delivering his basketball team’s jerseys. Then he gets a bombshell when he learns the sperm he donated twenty years ago was used to father 533 children and 142 of them are suing to find out his identity. Against the advice of his friend and lawyer, Brett (Chris Pratt), David begins anonymously helping out his biological children and becoming a more mature individual as a result.
I have also just related to you the plot of Starbuck with the following exceptions: Emma and Brett are called Valérie (Julie LeBreton) and Avocat (Antoine Bertrand), respectively, and David fails to delivery soccer jerseys instead of basketball jerseys. It’s not uncommon for remakes to share plot points with the original movie, but Delivery Man clings to the original for dear life. There is not a moment in Delivery Man that isn’t in Starbuck. The dialogue has been passed through a translator, and new actors are playing the parts, and not as well as their French-Canadian counterparts.
Smulders and Pratt are both comically gifted actors, and neither one can figure out what to do with their roles. Emma is less interesting than Valérie because LeBreton brought some fire and anger to the role where Smulders seems tired and beleaguered. Bertrand conveys just enough sleaze and cynicism playing David’s friend and lawyer, but Pratt is too adorable and endearing to play the scold. And as for Vaughn, his attempt at a restrained performance makes it look like he’s sleepwalking through the role. In Psycho, Vaughn at least tried to bring something new to the Norman Bates role (although it was a fool’s errand trying to step out of the shadow of Anthony Perkins‘ iconic performance), but in Delivery Man he’s dryly reciting the same lines but wearing better t-shirts (like this sold-out Threadless one).
The problem extends beyond the actors because it really comes back to Scott. He isn’t directing the movie. He’s repackaged it. The dialogue and the jokes aren’t just the same. Scott even reuses some of the same shots. Perhaps he could have used Delivery Man as a rare opportunity to say, “What if I had made my movie another way?” but it seems like he’s scared of contradicting himself. To change anything would raise the question, “Did you do it wrong the first time?” Rather than let a new vision stand for itself, Scott gives into the worst desires of America’s laziest viewers. He’s not serving an artistic vision; he’s serving people who don’t like to read subtitles or watch unfamiliar actors.
One could make the argument that Starbuck didn’t reach enough people and Delivery Man is an opportunity to bring the story to a wider audience. This would be excusable if Starbuck was hard to track down and the story was on the other side of some vast cultural divide. But it’s available on multiple VOD services and it’s from freaking Canada. Remakes of easily accessible foreign films are always a bummer, but none of those remakes are as scared and hollow as Delivery Man.
I used to think that all art has a right to exist. Delivery Man made me realize there’s a limit. Scott hasn’t reimagined or provided a new angle on Starbuck. He’s created a replica designed to be palatable on the most superficial level. Delivery Man is a movie designed for people who would find a light comedy enjoyable if only it weren’t in a foreign language with foreign actors. That may be a reason to exist. It’s just not a good one.