Unfinished Business is a perfect storm of unfocused – mostly unfunny – mundane comedic filmmaking.
In Unfinished Business we meet Dan Trunkman (Vince Vaughn), a man fed up with the shark-like mentality of his boss Chuck (Sienna Miller). Dan makes the bold step of quitting Chuck’s team and striking out on his own; however, a year later, he’s still working out of a Dunkin Donuts and his only two employees are sad, old working man Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson), and air-head youngster Mike Pancake (Dave Franco).
As family obligations and financial burdens threaten to break Dan, a ray of hope appears in the form of a business deal with a German company represented by Jim Spinch (James Marsden) and his right-hand man, Bill Whilmsley (Nick Frost). But saving grace quickly turns to damnation when Dan and his team arrive in Germany only to find Chuck there, perched to swoop in and snatch their figurative kill.
But every man has his limit; with his back against the wall, Dan pledges to traverse all of Germany and shake every hand he has to in order to make this deal happen. Because for a true salesman, “the shake” is a prize worth questing after.
Unfinished Business is the latest film from Ken Scott, the man who previously worked with Vince Vaughn on the 2013 comedy/drama Delivery Man – which was itself a remake of Scott’s own indie hit, Starbuck. With both Vaughn and Scott experienced in creating concept dramedies, and Pursuit of Happiness/Secret Life of Walter Mitty writer Steve Conrad on the script, one would think this film would be a perfect storm of creative humor and genuine sentiment. Instead, Unfinished Business is a perfect storm of unfocused – mostly unfunny – mundane comedic filmmaking.
It becomes very clear, very early on, that both Scott and Conrad have bitten off way more than they can respectively (or collectively) chew. Unfinished Business throws far too many story beats and characters at the wall, hoping they will all stick. But very few of them do stick in any meaningful way, and when they do stick, they fail to get the attention needed to provide any meaningful or resonant storytelling.
There’s the narrative thread about Dan and Chuck’s rivalry (which opens the film and drives it, but is never really explained). There’s the thread about Dan and the serious problems his two kids Paul (Britton Sear) and Bess (Ella) are facing in school. There’s the thread about Dan lying to his wife (June Diane Raphael) about their financial troubles. The thread about Timothy’s woes as an aging, overworked, unfulfilled man; or the one about Mike’s introduction to new experiences, and his questionable family life. Oh, and as if more was needed, a framing subplot about Dan having to fill his daughter’s blank homework sheet with an on-the-nose rumination about who he is as her father. That’s enough material for a comedy AND a drama; mixed into one movie, it’s an overcooked mess that never really gets sorted out.
Steve Conrad’s other works tend to place a beaten-down, everyman protagonist at the center of the case study. The problem with Unfinished Business is that Vaughn (still doing his same schtick) is so inaccessible and robotic in his trademark dry, stoic delivery that the film never feels intimate enough for a character piece – making the overcrowded and strange world around Dan Trunkman hard to invest in. Looking at the film from a purely comedic standpoint: Unfinished Business is pretty lackluster material, filled with setups and gags that have been exhausted by so many films before.
Based on the setting alone, the film trips over every obvious German stereotype in the book – from the uninhibited cultural attitudes, to the kinky sexual indulgences, to the peculiar artistic tastes, smaller automobiles, penchant for beer and Euro-trashy nightclubs, etc., etc., etc…. Beyond that, the lineup of comedic gags and sequences feels like mishmash of ideas that never seem to balance out tonally with other jokes, not the entire dramatic side of the film. This is a movie where heartfelt realizations about bullying live in close proximity with sight gags about penises being shoved through glory holes.
Meanwhile, the general logistical points about where these characters are at any given moment, and why they are doing what they are doing moment-to-moment, gets lost in between the strange episodic jumps of the movie’s so-called progression. When it comes to most basic requirements of storytelling, Unfinished Business feels like it went through a lot of unfinished rounds of editing.
That’s not to say everything is bad. There are a few moments of hilarity when a few big jokes land; there are also a few genuinely eye-catching cinematic moments (see: the ecstasy sequence) and occasional moments of directorial flourish that will be remembered (that includes the glory hole scene). While Vince Vaughn is mostly just there, and Tom Wilkinson is woefully miscast in this film – and Sienna Miller and James Marsden have more implication than explanation behind their pivotal (and seldom seen) characters – Dave Franco does step up to carry the show. Like with his brother James in Pineapple Express, this film is (tragically and ironically) Dave’s breakout comedic performance. He turns Mike Pancake into a lovably weird, sweet, and totally goofy neophyte to the business world, Europe, and life in general. Without him, this ship would’ve capsized entirely.
Unfinished Business is not a bit of business you need to finish at a movie theater or even as a rental. Do yourself a favor and catch it on cable, on that odd night you’re bored, and just maybe you’ll find small benefits to this bad deal.
Unfinished Business is now playing in theaters. It is 91 minutes long and is Rated R for some strong risqué sexual content/graphic nudity, and for language and drug use.
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