→ March 5, 2015
Unfinished Business means well, but it doesn’t work well. The new Vince Vaughn comedy that reteams him with his Delivery Man director, Ken Scott, wants to be two things: a ribald road trip comedy, and a heartfelt parental dramedy about bullying. Vaughn has played characters who’ve been both lewd and/or bullies before, but—surprisingly—he’s downright priestly in Unfinished Business.
I almost feel guilty for picking on this movie. It’s harmless. But that doesn’t mean it should be near humorless.
Jokes largely happen around Vaughn. His costars—Tom Wilkinson, Dave Franco, Sienna Miller, and Nick Frost—are tasked with most of the jokes. Sometimes they get them, but often times the material misses—but at least they’re trying. Vaughn is surrounded by hijinks, but his whole character arc is to be able to tell his kids, “it gets better.” That, and put them into private school, because apparently the only way to lessen bullying is to pay for smaller classes.
Unfinished Business starts with a barracuda businesswoman with a man’s name, Chuck (Miller), telling Dan (Vaughn)—who’s just returned from making a sale—that everyone has to take a five percent pay cut. Dan quits instead. In an ensuing parking lot revolution, Dan hires Tim (Wilkinson) who Chuck just cut loose due to his age, and Mike (Franco) who just interviewed for a position to replace Tim.
Flash forward a year later, and Dan’s team is about to get their first big sales contract. Tim could use the sale because he wants to get a divorce, Mike could use the sale because he lives in a group home, and Dan could use the sale to put his son into private school where he thinks there’ll be less bullying about his weight. They think they’re going to Maine for a handshake, but they’re actually in competition with Chuck, and to close the deal they have to go to Germany—during the G-8 Summit (protests!), Oktoberfest (beers!), and Germany’s largest gay festival (penises!).
Scott (who’s Canadian) actually handles the culture clash way better than most bruuh comedies; this trip isn’t for America—and it thankfully, also never desires to assert alpha-male status—no, it’s for underdogs everywhere. For example, for a film that is marketing itself as a big road trip comedy, the gotta-have-it bong scene is a smoking scene amongst a group of the young and old alike, talking about how enhanced bullying has gotten—it used to end at the last school bell, now it follows you home via Facebook, Instagram, email, etc—in a youth hostel. Dan’s team was bullied by the corporate world, while the kids at the hostel are having fun for the first time in their lives.
For an us vs. them narrative all the characters are treated with respect (even Chuck isn’t made to be an outright ice-queen movie villain), but—while that’s commendable—that removal of meanness means that the characters need to be funny on their own. And they aren’t.
Dan is believable—if not necessarily funny, save how he ends FaceTime calls—but his team isn’t. Tim has a running gag with sex positions/sex workers that never lands, but the script keeps pummeling it. But Franco’s Mike is a chemistry experiment that went awry. Steve Conrad’s script seems to make him up as the movie goes along, and although Franco is committed to his performance, it never makes sense that he would even be with these guys in the first place. Mike is cartoonishly daft, but is also apparently a valuable number-cruncher for Dan, because although he can’t understand most sentences, he can write up a sales report that’ll land Dan’s company in the arena of the world’s elite businesses. It’s convenient for the movie, but not for the audience. Mike is a lost puppy when laughs are needed, and a brilliant mathematician when the plot needs to make it look like this ragtag bunch of underdogs could actually win their pitch.
That big pitch happens while three penises are plopped through glory-holes. And what happens before and after that pitch-to-a-penis scene perfectly encapsulates the movie: Unfinished Business wants to be The Hangover and an after school special at the same time. And by attempting to do both, it engages with bullying, parenting, and penis jokes on a far too simple level. The suits (Frost and James Marsden) who are deciding which company to go with—Dan’s or Chuck’s—aren’t the only people that can’t commit. This movie can’t even make up its mind about what it wants to be.
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