I was genuinely depressed leaving the cinema after watching Unfinished Business. Not because it was one of the worst films I’d ever had the horror of watching, but because I realized that its gaggle of lame gags, weak characterization and haphazard plotting had become the norm for the comedic genre.
Since the likes of Borat and Jackass proved that gross-out comedy could make mega-bucks, and Judd Apatow and his merry brood proved that adding heart doesn’t hurt either, studios have looked to blend these two cinematic facets together. Repeatedly. Throw in a medium-concept plot and a proven, leading man who is slightly goofy but still able to be relatable, and you’ve got yourself a comedy.
And Unfinished Business cast itself the most consistent lead actor the genre has to offer in Vincent Anthony Vaughn. Since 2005’s Wedding Crashers, almost all of his mainstream comedic entities have blossomed at the box office. Even the turgid ones – I’m looking at you Fred Claus, Four Christmases and Couples Retreat -- make back a buck. Only The Dilemma and The Watch truly bombed, while The Internship recently made $20 million more than its budget. Vince Vaughn is still the go-to everyman for these types of film.
Sadly, in Unfinished Business, Vince Vaughn does exactly what you expect of him. He’s driven, affable, loveable, slightly quirky and a little bit arrogant. But he does it all with an effortless charm and unlimited star quality that means you simply can’t take your eyes off him as he soldiers through to the end of his plight. In fact, at times, there was even a Jack Lemmon quality to him. There’s just one problem. The rest of the film doesn’t match up to his talents. Instead, it’s just a hodge-podge of crass skits, each of which could have easily been ripped straight out of any feeble script, which is then flimsily tied together by a simple plot that is tiresomely foreseeable.
Vaughn stars as Daniel Trunkman, who after quitting his job as a salesman for a top agency 12 months previously, is struggling to get his small business up and running. In fact, they’re on the brink of bankruptcy. But if they can land this one deal, then they will be right as rain, and the world will seem glorious again.
In order to get the handshake he desires from the company head, he sets off to Berlin with his two associates: Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson), who is so old it’s apparently laughable; and Dave Franco’s Mike Pancake, who just shouts out randomly stupid things that we’re supposed to laugh at even though we’re told part-way through the film he’s probably disabled. Funny surname, though. Of course, there’s conflict along the way. Their done-deal is threatened by the appearance of Sienna Miller’s Chuck Portnoy, Vaughn’s former boss, while James Marsden and Nick Frost play the desired business’ evil and loveable employees, respectively. Plus there are also family issues back home that Vaughn’s Trunkman struggles to deal with because he’s away on business. I think you can guess how it all turns out.
The real problem with Unfinished Business is that you can see that there was a good idea in there somewhere. This is arguably the most mature and determined character that Vaughn has ever had to play, as he has to deal with a bevy of different issues that are thrown his way, all while he tries to remain in control. His overweight son is being bullied, his daughter is actually being a bully, his family have run out of money, all while he’s also trying to get his business off the ground against a competitor that is obviously much more credible and well-run than he is. It’s something new for Vaughn, but nothing that he has to stretch too far to portray. Plus, Unfinished Business has a catchy title, is eminently marketable, and when you add the unique European locale of Berlin to the mix, you can understand why Vaughn signed on and why it was then green-lit.
But you can almost see how and where the film was then diluted down by studio influence. Of course you need a scene where Tom Wilkinson does drugs, where Dave Franco not only gets trapped in an over-sized hamster ball with a Japanese businessman but falls face first into a penis (in a different scene), and where Vince Vaughn finds himself exchanging niceties with several gentlemen using different glory-holes. Why? Because all of that is funny. Why aren’t you laughing? Maybe on paper, these bits were amusing, but each of these scenes come off as just totally random, and are a contributing factor to why Unfinished Business never builds up a coherent rhythm or fluidity.
The cast tries its best, but only Vaughn is given a character that he can make well-rounded and redeemable, while the fact that he isn’t given anyone to truly play-off of and develop a patter with means that he has to carry the film by himself. Something he does admirably. But he still can’t stop the film from being a total flop. At some point in time, Unfinished Business was probably a decent comedy. But it was either rushed to the screen or destroyed along the way, and in the end, that’s just not good enough.