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I’ve written in the past about at least two different Vince Vaughn vehicles that underperformed at the box office. In the past six months, Vaughn has failed to deliver positive box office results twice, starring in what seems like the exact same movie yet again in the form of both The Internship and Delivery Man. Once one of the most in demand Hollywood heavyweights, Vaughn has turned into box office poison. I’ve always liked his quick talking ways and razor sharp wit, so today I’m going to explore why I think his two comedies this year both failed.
The Internship (2013)
The Internship is the story of two grown men (Vaughn and Owen Wilson, reteaming from their Wedding Crashers glory days) who, upon losing their jobs as salesmen, apply to become interns at Google. Accepted as part of a diversity quota (because they’re old, ha ha), the two are placed on a team of last-picked losers including a sheltered mama’s boy, a misunderstood bad boy, and a girl who is into anime and manga (because it’s apparently 2007). Vaughn and Wilson (let’s be honest, they’re playing themselves, and honestly that’s the one of the few things not wrong with the movie) must overcome adversity at every end, win their respective love interests and such, and lead their rag-tag team of rejects to the top, ultimately hoping to win jobs with the prestigious, highly successful Google tech company. So, what exactly went wrong?
Back in 2005, Vaughn and Wilson starred in the much better received Wedding Crashers, a film that grossed over 200 million dollars at the box office (almost unheard of for an R-rated comedy film). It was met with near universal critical and audience acclaim. The Internship to many felt like nothing but a cheap re-tread of that film, complete with similar directing style by Shawn Levy (who may as well just have the same filmography as Crashers’ director David Dobkin). Because of this perception, it is likely that The Internship was probably doomed to failure from the start. Mockingly dubbed “2007’s best comedy!” (a joke I just made literally one paragraph ago) by several film critics and smart asses online, The Internship debuted to horrid reviews (35% rating on RT) and tepid box office (just 17 million over its first weekend, a huge drop-off from Vaughn and Wilson’s previous collaboration). Blasted by many as nothing but a blatant cash grab, The Internship quickly faded from box office as other big summer comedies, like The Heat and We’re the Millers, succeeded in its stead.
Additionally, it didn’t help that The Internship is barely even a movie. Like Adam Sandler’s two “Let’s go to the woods on vacation and film it!” Grown Ups movies, The Internship is basically an hour and a half long commercial for Google. Wilson, Vaughn, and their team use Google translate, develop apps for Google devices, and do other Google stuff as part of their Google challenges. Their ultimate goal is to work for Google, which is made out to be some kind of workplace heaven with free coffee and bagels and adult-sized fun slides that twist and turn from one floor to the next. The “script” (“co-written” by Vaughn) is nothing but blatant product placement in both the foreground and the background of this tired slobs vs. snobs movie. Yes, The Internship is part of a comedy sub-genre so well worn that it was beginning to feel dated in the mid-1980s. Why are we still getting these kinds of movies? Who is financing this stuff?
Delivery Man (2013)
From 2004 to 2009, Vince Vaughn starred in a series of commercial hits that grossed buckets of money and were typically greeted by a significant amount of critical acclaim (Dodgeball and Wedding Crashers were surprisingly well-reviewed films) or at least audience appreciation. That trend started to turn a bit in late 2007 when Vaughn starred in Fred Claus, a film obviously meant to be a kid-friendly cash magnet. Fred Claus, however, met with tepid reviews and middling box office. The next year, Vaughn struck gold commercially with another holiday film, Four Christmases. Like Fred Claus, however, it was met with atrocious reviews. 2009’s Couples Retreat was Vaughn’s last big hit (and a terrible movie), but was also met with a critical trashing. Vaughn hasn’t scored a commercial or critical hit since.
I bring this up only because Delivery Man actually had promise. It could have been a well-reviewed, funny, and heartfelt film in the vein of one of Vaughn’s earlier hits. Why? Because unlike The Internship and those four crappy movies mentioned earlier, Delivery Man actually has something resembling a story and fleshed out characters (it is based on a highly regarded Canadian film from the same director, Ken Scott). Vaughn stars as David Wozniak, a man who lacks direction and passion in his life until he founds out that a sperm donation mix-up resulted in him siring over 500 children. While it is true that this is a wacky scenario that probably has little to no basis in reality, it at least seems to have a coherent story and a script instead of substituting product placement and charismatic actors in place of a story. So, what exactly went wrong?
I really feel like Delivery Man was marketed as a thoughtful, contemplative dramatic film. Trailers and TV spots for the film feature sappy music (the same song, incidentally, as is used in an insurance commercial) interspersed with moments of comedy and then dramatic bits about how Vaughn needs to get his life together. I really feel like this was the most proper way to market this movie. Other than the sap, I think it was wise for Disney to market Delivery Man the way they did. Critics actually praised Vaughn’s work in the film as well, describing him as likable and “quietly reactive” instead of his usual fast-talking persona. Critics praised it as work unlike more recent, typical Vince Vaughn movies, as if it were a step in the right direction for Vaughn’s career. The film, however, just couldn’t shake overall bad reviews, having compiled a poor 36% rating on Rotten Tomatoes despite Vaughn’s best acting effort in years.
The big problem for Delivery Man (in addition to the poor reviews) was opening against The Hunger Games’ first sequel, Catching Fire. Catching Fire debuted to a mammoth 160+ million dollars over its first weekend, leaving little for the other films at the theater. Even mega-budgeted tentpole Thor: The Dark World crumbled in its third weekend. Other films like The Best Man Holiday and Last Vegas saw significant dips in their grosses as well. Vaughn’s film was a clear attempt by Disney at counter-programming (when studios release a smaller film targeted at a different section of the audience than a tent-pole release), but this kind of thing only rarely succeeds, and when it does it’s usually in the form of a romantic comedy with a bankable actress at the helm. The modestly budgeted (26 million dollars) Delivery Man will probably not end up profitable, making it two flops in six months for the once dependable Vaughn.