Film Review – Unfinished Business
Honestly, these are the hardest kind of reviews to write. If you end up seeing a really great movie, you usually have many thoughts about it that come gushing forth and you find yourself eager to prosthelytize to everyone how wonderful it is. Also, if it’s worthwhile, you usually have many meaty things to dig into regarding it’s structure and subject. Conversely, if a movie is really awful you can at least dig into reasons why a movie fails. At least a bad movie elicits a feeling. It might be hatred, but at least it’s an opinion you can write about. Then there are the third kind of film. A lot of movies come along that elicit a response of “meh”. The movie isn’t particularly awful. You don’t outright hate it. But there’s also no way you like it either. There’s just no “there” there. When you are a normal movie viewer that sits through one of these movies, you can at least dismiss it and go on with your life. However, if you have to write a review about it, you’re forced to spend more mental energy considering it. And that brings us to the new failed comedy Unfinished Business.
Vince Vaughn stars as a frustrated salesman who quits the successful firm he is working for because they are trying to force him to accept less money. He declares he will start his own company and loudly offers a job to anyone else in the office who is willing to strike out with him. In the parking lot he is joined by an older employee who was just forced into retirement (Tom Wilkinson) and a well meaning but shy young man who unsuccessfully applied for a job (Dave Franco). Jump cut to a year later. The nascent firm is on the brink of finalizing a deal that will insure their company’s future. They are just one weekend trip away from the “handshake” closing of the contract with their client. However, once they arrive in Portland, Maine for the final meeting, they discover that their old boss (Sienna Miller playing a pretty one note character) is there to undercut their business. Before you know it, their done deal isn’t so done, they have to fly to the client’s headquarters in Germany to chase the business, and on the trip to Europe hijinks ensue.
That’s the basic premise. There is also the tired secondary story of how Vaughn’s family man hasn’t been spending enough time with his kids since he’s spent the past year hustling to make his new firm work. Subsequently, his son is getting bullied for being fat and his daughter is acting out including being suspended for beating up another student. Meanwhile, Wilkenson’s character hopes to close the deal so he can finance his divorce. And Franco, who is probably the highlight of the whole cast with his underplayed line readings, turns out to have hidden reasons for why he is so soft spoken.
The trailers for Unfinished Business sell it as a manic raunchy comedy in the vein of The Hangover or Old School. But it doesn’t have any of the manic energy of either of those films. It plays much more like a string of loosely related scenes with no raising of comedic stakes. Old School may have been a bit of a sloppy comedy in it’s construction, but at least there was some sort of propulsion to it’s comedy. This movie just doesn’t go anywhere. There are scenes in Germany where Vaughn has to negotiate with a supplier in a co-ed nude sauna, where they all have to court a client in a gay night club bathroom that involves some almost amusing sight gags involving glory holes, a riot during the G8 summit where they dodge tear gas, and a running gag where Vaughn ends up living in a zoo like exhibition in an art museum. As funny as some of those ideas may have seemed on paper, they all play out with a minimal amount of laughs. And it never feels like there’s any real reason for these characters to keep going. There’s just no sense of urgency.
Also, an almost fatal flaw is the lack of clear explanation of what exactly their business is all about. It’s explained that they are selling the remnants of metal shavings from metal manufacturing plants. I’m guessing it can be melted down to be used for other purposes and since their remnants, the supply is cheap. But, though we see the customers played by James Marsden and Nick Frost, we the audience have no idea what the customer would plan to do with any of it. There’s endless talk about lowering percentages and getting their numbers straight. But there is little to no context for any of it. So the audience is left wondering why it should care. It’s nice to see a movie trying to portray their comedic heroes as competent at their jobs. It’s a nice change from making them just unbelievable fools. But if you just spend screen time having characters staring at papers while spouting figures devoid of meaning, it just makes the whole movie kind of grind to a halt.
At one point when he was first starting his career, it seemed that Vince Vaughn might have been the heir apparent to the Meatballs/Stripes era Bill Murray. The older actor has really branched out a lot since then. But Vaughn showed some early promise playing the smarmy, fast talking con artist that you enjoyed watching. Lately he seems to be floating from one questionable project to another. He seems to still be trying to sell that early career charm, but the schtick is getting old and he hasn’t found enough good roles to support him. Hopefully he will be able to turn it around with his upcoming stint on True Detective.
One of the worst comments you can make about a comedy can be said about Unfinished Business: it’s running time is only 91 minutes and it felt longer. There are a handful of mildly amusing moments. But there is no narrative for us to care about.