Every now and then, an actor that usually makes good choices will pick a less-than-brilliant movie role that, nevertheless, pays handsomely. Unfinished Business seems to be what happens when you get a whole ensemble cast of players who seemingly have no possible incentive to be here other than the money.
It’s no surprise to see Vince Vaughn, but we haven’t the foggiest as to what Tom Wilkinson, Dave Franco, Sienna Miller, James Marsden and Nick Frost are doing here, if they’re not in it for the salary. This mirthless, mercenary comedy is beneath all of them, even Vaughn, although this seems to be the kind of vehicle to which he hitches his wagon all too often these days.
In essence, it’s 20th Century Fox’s kit-bashed answer to The Hangover and Horrible Bosses, following three average Joes who enjoy a debauched business trip abroad while trying to get one over on their former employer. While those aforementioned box office juggernauts at least had more than an R-rating at their conception, (mining mystery and crime movie tropes respectively) there’s nothing so propulsive in Unfinished Business.
Dan, (Vaughn) Timothy, (Wilkinson) and Mike (Franco) are the sole employees of a start-up that’s relying on a make-or-break deal with a European client. In a bid to close the deal, the three of them to set off for a business trip to Germany.
When they run into Dan’s former boss Chuck, (Miller) they realise that their company may be the ‘fluffer’ company, brought in as a bargaining chip so that the clients (Marsden and Frost) can sweeten their deal with the market leader. Desperate to win the contract so that his business can stay afloat and he can afford send his bullied son to a private school, Dan goes all out to try and win the deal back from Chuck.
Steve Conrad’s script takes place at a timetabling nexus of things that might happen in Germany, such as Oktoberfest, the G8 summit, the Berlin marathon and, for the purposes of a little bit of cringe-making homophobia, a gay fetish festival. So if any of that plot sounded contrived, rest assured that the film is no more than a series of tenuously linked skits anyway.
Granted, there can’t have been much on the page to begin with, (cock jokes notwithstanding) but the film is further afflicted by terrible performances. Many of the actors in this stellar cast have never been worse than they are here – the sheer amount of restlessness on-screen in each and every scene is suffocating.
But in a film that’s very hard to be good in, a couple of them manage to be actively terrible. Not content to cast Franco as the Charlie Day or Zach Galifianakis substitute, his Mike Pancake (hahahaha, no) is actually a ‘special school’ alumnus, and he plays the whole thing at around the intellectual level of Tropic Thunder‘s Simple Jack.
This never once translates into a smile, let alone a good laugh, but in Franco’s defence, neither does anything else in the film’s transcendentally long 91 minute running time. It’s been marketed as a crazy party movie, but as limp as those scenes are, they’re only brief highlights in the midst of the seemingly endless contrivances that mount up as the film wears on.
It’s unfortunate to have to declare this one dead on arrival, if you were led to expect anything different by the last collaboration between Vaughn and director Ken Scott. Delivery Man, their English language remake of Scott’s own French-Canadian sperm donor comedy Starbuck, was at least a cut above some of Vaughn’s more putrid output in recent years, bolstered by supporting turns from Cobie Smulders and Chris Pratt, who both went on to better things at Marvel Studios. Unfinished Business misses them sorely, but then it’s hard to imagine they’d have found any more to work with than any of the talented supporting cast who did fall into it.
We could go on all day exploring the lengths and depths of how they got it wrong, but Unfinished Business is damned by its own choice of wacky occupation. Swarf selling is the name of the game for Dan et al. If you’re unfamiliar, swarf is the debris from wood and metal manufacturing processes which the film assures us is totally a real business.
This film also feels like the detritus of an industrial process, cobbled together from the shavings of other comedies that were box office hits, scraping away at the very souls of its talented cast, and ultimately sold on to consumers by bland and unlikeable suits. At least they’re laughing all the way to the bank, but it’s a rather more sobre venture for the rest of us.
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