Unfinished Business, the new Vince Vaughn-fronted comedy from director Ken Scott (who teamed with Vaughn on the sperm-donor comedy Delivery Man) and writer Steve Conrad (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), can’t decide what movie it wants to be.
On one hand, it tries to be a crude comedy where the main trio is comprised of a smooth talking charmer who drops the F word a lot, an old man, and a kid who is mentally handicapped (that’s not a joke). Those last two are supposed to be funny because one is old and one is not smart. These guys run around, get into mischief, see a lot of boobs, and try to explain sexual positions to the youngster.
That’s part of the equation. The other is all about loving yourself for who you are, accepting you for you, no matter who bullies you, pushes you around, and kicks sand in your face. This goes for the big three—Dan Trunkman (Vaughn), Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson), and Mike Pancake (Dave Franco)—but runs all the way down to Dan’s family. It’s some serious Horatio Alger, self-determination, up-by-your-bootstraps stuff, and it’s all warm and fuzzy and everybody hugs.
These two sides clash in the most awkward manner, like scenes from two totally different movies, with to drastically incompatible tones, have been spliced together like you shuffled a deck of cards. Within moments you run from boner jokes and glory holes and old men doing ecstasy in a youth hostel to a father and son having a serious discussion about being tough and not letting bullies get to you, which, oddly enough, mirrors one they had earlier about masturbation. I guess that is a different kind of self-love.
Unfinished Business begins with Dan butting heads with his boss, Chuck (Sienna Miller), and quitting his demeaning sales job to start his own business. The only people who join him on this quest are, you guessed it, the guy forced out due to unfair mandatory age restrictions and the simpleton who brings a box of office supplies to a job interview because he thinks it shows initiative. They have one chance to keep themselves afloat—and to send Dan’s chubby son to private school where magically won’t be bullied anymore, because rich kids are known for being so sensitive—and embark on a journey to get the mythical “hand shake” that signifies the deal is done. This, of course, isn’t so simple, and they embark on a wild, globe-trekking adventure to save their flailing business, enduring one crushing failure after another, never giving up.
Watching Unfinished Business unfold, you feel like there must be more, like there’s some deep level of business satire that you just don’t quite get. The companies involved have meaningless names like Apex Select and Dynamic Progressive Service. They literally sell leftover metal shavings, toss around a jumble of assorted, generic business jargon, and flash some graphs on a computer screen. Most of it feels like they’re walking around saying, “Business, business, business.”
Dan, Timothy, and Mike find themselves immersed in an avant-garde subculture of performance installation art, in the middle of a European gay fetish festival, and on the front lines of a raucous protest at a G8 economic summit. It’s almost surreal, like an absurdist farce.
You can’t shake this feeling that the film wants to lampoon art, politics, economics, familial relationships, business culture, and more. At times, when Unfinished Business gets into this madness and just goes for it, you get a sense that the inherent weirdness is on the verge of coalescing into something big and brilliant and spectacular, but that never happens.
The main narrative thrust doesn’t kick in until a year after Dan starts his company, but it’s like no time has passed. For instance, no one seems to know that Timothy’s marriage is a loveless shell, or that Mike didn’t actually go to college and lives in what sounds like a halfway house. These are three people who have spent every day of the last year together, and they don’t know each other at all.
Vaughn is a charismatic as ever, but is all over the map, from loving father and doting husband to foul-mouthed best bud. Like the rest of the movie, the pieces don’t fit together and he looks like he wonders what he’s doing here. Wilkinson has moments playing against his serious, straight type, though he’s too pathetic most of the time. Franco does the same thing throughout the whole film. You know he’s going to say or do something dumb, and it’s supposed to be funny, but it’s also intended to be kind of endearing because he’s so good-natured. Most of it is painfully humorless, but he’s mistakenly set up as some kind of near holy figure, like he’s so simple, but somehow so wise, only not. Nick Frost shows up and steals a couple of scenes, but is totally squandered.
Unfinished Business wants to be a lot of things: sentimental, raunchy, quick witted, touching. Bu the tone is so wildly inconsistent that the collection of running gags—like Dan’s repetitive voice over as he contemplates a project for his elementary school aged daughter, or Timothy wanting to experiment with a particular sex act—is the only glue holding it together. At one point, the trio sits around a grubby Berlin hostel, bong in hand, surrounded by travellers, all lamenting the modern world, the lack of privacy, drowning in social media, and feeling like an outcast for being different. Unfinished Business is this scene, like a bunch of people sitting around stoned, throwing out ideas that sound fun, but occasionally stumbling into one that brings everybody down. [Grade: D+]