"My children know they're too old to be aborted," says Chris Pratt, as Vince Vaughn's lawyer friend with all the best lines, providing Delivery Man with one of a handful of instances of dark wit. Pratt plays a single father of four, exhausted by the job, doing what he can to ward off Vaughn's insistence on learning the identities of the 500+ children his youthful sperm bank donations created. But whatever jagged edge this piece of dialogue creates is quickly softened and discarded as the disgruntled parent's adorable daughter begins playing a fairly intense game of pattycake on his face. Fatherhood, no matter how much a character hates it or wishes he hadn't accepted the challenge, is never allowed to be anything less than its own reward in generic, schmoopy, flyweight family entertainment like this. That more real-life parents aren't offended by brainless movie depictions of the difficulties involved in raising children just proves that Pratt's character's exhaustion is a more widespread than we know. The moms and dads of the world are just too tired to fight about it.
When Vaughn learns that his talent for paid masturbation has resulted in 533 inseminations and that several hundred of the now-adult children are filing suit to learn his identity, he panics and fights back. But at the same time, the pull of his own on-again-off-again girlfriend's (Cobie Smulders) pregnancy finds him discarding his slovenly, irresponsible, weed-growing lifestyle (it's always the reefer's fault) and undertaking a stealth parenting mission. He spends much of the movie's running time insinuating himself into the lives of a handful of his formerly anonymous offspring, learning what they need from a father and doing his best to deliver.
If Pratt is the voice of believable, authentic, parental ambivalence, Vaughn is meant to be his appealing, though equally believable, opposite. One problem: not a single trustworthy word comes out of the man's mouth. He's not convincing as a good character or even as a bad character yearning for goodness. There is a wall, a high one, one that he started building around the time of Swingers, and that wall is made of bricks fashioned of glib jerkiness and confident, affable smarm. That wall is also amoral. It's a persona that serves Vaughn well enough in films that are worthy of his talents and, unfortunately, more often, in terrible movie after terrible movie that isn't. Even in this emotion-tugging scenario, when we're clearly meant to be experiencing his softer side, the wall is there. And he's not doing much to scale it, relying instead on surrounding warmth -- concerned family members, charming-ish interactions with the lawsuit-kids -- in the hope that it will catapult both him and us over that towering obstacle and into Nice Feelings. To that end, he is frequently seen pushing around a mute young man in a wheelchair.
You know how it all ends. There is no other option available than lessons learned and connections made, no matter how emptily they're presented. If the MPAA rated films based on hugs, it would be porn. And its release couldn't be timed more cynically/perfectly. As Thanksgiving product, it's the movie you settle on with your family after a day of togetherness, the least potentially offensive time-killer at the multiplex, the one you can all half-agree that you're barely interested in seeing. When it's over someone will call it "cute" and everyone else will murmur something agreeable. Then you'll forget you saw it. Or maybe you'll just wish you could.