Vince Vaughn has an affable, doughy countenance that's so appealingly ordinary that sometimes it's impossible to believe he stars in movies. With his big forehead, bulky build and hangdog expression, he doesn't project any sort of sexual spark or compelling vibe. We're always told that movie stars have a certain "something" about them, but Vaughn doesn't—at least not for a while. When he started out as the smart-aleck spirit of Swingers and Jurassic Park: The Lost World, he projected a wised-up attitude that seemed to mock the very idea of movie stars. It was as if your lovable-slob college buddy woke up one morning and discovered that people were willing to pay him money to hang out in films.
Recently, though, in The Watch and The Internship, Vaughn's appeal has started to wane, as he's unsuccessfully tried to pretend he's still the edgy loudmouth. So it's somewhat encouraging that his new movie, Delivery Man, finds him going for a slightly softer onscreen persona. The movie's not so great, though, because Vaughn hasn't figured out how to be anything other than the backslapping dude. Delivery Man is about a guy who needs to grow up starring a guy who isn't quite there himself.
The film is a faithful remake of Starbuck, a recent French-Canadian comedy that, like the remake, was directed by Ken Scott. It stars Vaughn as David, a nice-guy loser who learns that his anonymous sperm donations from the early '90s have produced over 500 offspring—and that 142 of them are filing a lawsuit to learn his identity. David had enough on his plate already, just being told by his girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders) that she's pregnant with their child, although she doesn't think he's mature enough to handle fatherhood. With being a daddy on his mind, David decides to obtain information about these 142 people and befriend them one at a time, never letting on that he's their father.
It's not that Vaughn hasn't shown a more dramatic side before: He was good in a small role in Into the Wild and suggested he could be an affecting leading man in the so-so The Break-Up. But Delivery Man is his official entry into the sad-faced-clown phase of his comedic career, which is when funny stars go for a heart-tugging crowd pleaser. Ideally, the movie wants to make you laugh a little at the beginning—Vaughn is paired up with Chris Pratt as his bozo buddy and lawyer—before sideswiping you with the feel-good realization that David is just a big softie who learns how to love along the road to emotional maturity.
He really doesn't, though, which is Delivery Man's major problem. David isn't so much a bad guy as he is a harmless screw-up. He works for his family's meat company as, you guessed it, a delivery man, and he's up to his eyeballs in debt. But as we discover, he's mostly just lazy and kindhearted—there's nothing comically awful or exasperating about David. Both in Starbuck and Delivery Man, the main character doesn't have far to go to grow up: It's a little neat how he becomes buddies with these young people without inconveniencing himself. (In both films, the guy discovers that one of his children is a severely handicapped boy living in a home, and while these interactions are touching, David can just go home at the end of the day. It's not like he's being impacted in any way.)
Because Vaughn was for so long the brash up-and-comer, Delivery Man's best, largely unspoken joke is that he's become the 40-something guy who has to contend with these damn kids who don't necessarily cotton to this old dude coming into their lives. (This theme seems to appeal to Vaughn: It was also incorporated into The Internship, which he co-wrote.) But like David, Vaughn is too unformed. His attempts at being the Model Boyfriend with Smulders feel awkward, and his more heartfelt moments with the kids or his patient father (a great Andrzej Blumenfeld) play like promising rough drafts of a gentler, sweeter career he might yet pursue. But in the process of growing up, Vaughn is in danger of blanding out. Early in his career, his onscreen appearance was so funny because he didn't seem like your average movie star. Sadly, that's exactly what he is now.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.