A wretched, dumpy comedy that will totally bum you out.
It almost feels like Ken Scott’s Unfinished Business was originally intended to be a somber drama about a broken workaholic scrambling to glue his home and work lives back together, but then someone said, “This sh*t ain’t gonna sell! Throw some dumb jokes, boobies, dicks, and beer in there, and we’ll have a real winner on our hands, fellas!” This movie is wretched. It lacks focus, style and ambition, and not only is it the unfunniest comedy I’ve seen in recent memory (I just watched Hot Tub Time Machine 2, by the way), its strangely depressing tone totally bummed me out. (I took a sadness-induced nap when I got home from the theater. No joke.) Since the Apatow era began, Hollywood’s manufactured dozens of test-tube movies designed to plunder the pockets of dim-witted dude-bros, but Conrad’s film may be the most defective piece of junk to slide down the assembly line yet.
The film’s premise is laid out in the first five minutes, with businessman Dan Truckman (Vince Vaughn) being slapped with a five percent pay cut by his boss, Chuck (Sienna Miller), as a reward for working so hard he hasn’t eaten in three days or had time to spend with his family. (The film’s explanation of exactly what kind of business they’re involved in is cursory at best; they deal in goods of some sort and shake hands with other suits, but that’s pretty much all we know.) In a strangely blasé act of defiance, Dan quits on the spot, telling his co-workers to walk out the door with him if they want to join him in his exciting new venture. Cut to Dan walking out the door and into the parking lot…alone.
But by some fluke, he actually ends up finding two partners before he reaches his car: Tim McWinters (Tom Wilkinson), an elderly horn-dog, and Mike Pancake (Dave Franco), a meek, ebullient young man who may or may not be mentally challenged. Old-timer Tim is carrying a box of office supplies because he’s just been let go due to his age. Mike’s also carrying a box of office supplies, not because he’s been let go, but because he had a job interview that day and wanted to “look confident”. For better or for worse, these two dumbos complete Dan’s underdog squad. Flash forward a year later, and the three amigos are flying to Portland, Maine to close their first deal, a real game-changer (something to do with a product made of leftover metal called “swarf”). Just as Dan’s gearing up to seal the lucrative deal with the all-important “handshake,” his nemesis Chuck swoops in and threatens to trump Dan once and for all. Not willing to lose to his former company and boss, Dan flies with the boys to Germany to meet with the man at the head of the business of which they’re pursuing partnership.
Dan is a tragically deflated version of the smart-talking, chauvinist cool-guys Vaughn’s played in the past. While the Wedding Crashers star isn’t exactly known for his range, you can always count on him to at least bring a bit of energy and spunk to the table. He’s a good actor, and with his charm and large frame always fits nicely into leadership roles. (How many times have we seen him give motivational, “We can f*cking do this, guys!” speeches in ensemble comedies?) In this movie, though, he’s incredibly mopey and unenthused, his every line sounding half-hearted to indifferent. Vaughn is a shell of himself, leaving everything appealing about him at the door.
Making the movie even dumpier is a secondary plot involving Dan trying (and failing) to be a good dad and husband via phone and Facetime. While he’s in Germany partying and drinking like a fool, his son’s getting bullied at school for being fat, and his daughter gets caught on camera “beating the sh*t” out of an Indian girl in the cafeteria. Despite Dan’s negligence, his wife (June Diane Raphael) is unusually forgiving, even being so generous as to hit him up for phone sex while their children are probably crying themselves to sleep in their bedrooms. It all feels very off-putting and sour, and I can’t imagine the film would have suffered had Dan’s family been cut from the picture altogether.
Believe it or not, I did enjoy one aspect of the movie. Franco is exceedingly fun to watch; his hilarious malapropisms and winning childishness make him feel like a quieter, more lovable take on Charlie from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” The youngest adult actor in the film, Franco overachieves and manages to elicit some smiles in an otherwise dismal affair. Raphael and Wilkinson are criminally underused, as are Nick Frost and James Marsden, who play the good and evil employees of the sought-after business, respectively. There isn’t much room for their characters to do much because most of the movie is spent following Vaughn as he hangs his head and drags his feet through terrible sight gags and party scenes that feel swept up from the cutting room floor of The Hangover. My brain melts a little every time I have to watch a slow-mo montage of late-night debauchery and drink-spilling, but alas, such is the fashion in comedies these days.
Beyond the fact that it’s laugh-less, unoriginal, and bland, there’s a deeper problem with Unfinished Business. Had it been played as a straight drama, it actually might have been pretty good. There are little golden doors of opportunity throughout the film where, had Scott pushed through them, real emotion might have been found on the other side. Instead, we see Franco fall face-first into a flaccid dick hanging out of a glory hole. ‘Nuff said.