If you’ve been keeping on eye on Unfinished Business –and a March R-rated comedy with a strong cast should be something worth paying attention to – then you may have run across the final piece of its ad campaign, wherein stars Vince Vaughn, Dave Franco, and Tom Wilkinson pose in stock corporate image photos. Synergizing star power with the innate meme-ability of visibly uncomfortable actors pretending to be office drones, the promotion is about as effective and clever as an afternoon Photoshop session could possibly allow. Unfortunately, it’s also too effective at conveying what a derivative mock-up of a filth-romp Unfinished Business happens to be.
Whereas The Internship, Vaughn’s biggest success of the last five years, was a transparent plug for one of the 21st century’s largest corporate entities, Unfinished Business may secretly be the first film ever made by Getty Images. It has all the hallmarks of Getty’s stiff, fabricated photos: over-lit and awkwardly assembled, Unfinished Business is a bargain facsimile of what raunchy travel films are supposed to look like. And like most stock photos, the people appearing in front of you during the film look as though they’re having a lot more fun than you are.
Vaughn stars as Dan Trunkman, introduced Jerry Maguire-ing himself out of his comfortable, but restricting position in a vaguely defined corporate job (it’s something to do with selling leftover industrial material for reuse. If for nothing else, you can thank Unfinished Business for providing its own metaphors). Stealing away old-timer Timothy (Tom Wilkinson) and young gun Mike (Dave Franco) from his old employer (Sienna Miller, whose face will soon appear next to the dictionary definition of “underused”), Dan sets out to prove he can run a business that puts employees ahead of the bottom line.
How does he plan to do that? It doesn’t really matter. As implied by its manila-bland title, the “business” end of Unfinished Business is meant to be so universally generic, that Vaughn spends the entire film chasing a literal handshake meant to seal a big account. That chase takes the main trio from St. Louis, to Portland, to Berlin, with Miller’s character competing against them all the while. The plot could charitably be described as by-the-numbers, as to do so would suggest that pivot points for the story don’t require Vaughn to yell about percentage points and fiscal projections.
Those hoping the vagaries of the actual business might be in service of some Office Space-style satire will be disappointed to find that Unfinished Business hasn’t a single satirical thread in its suit. It’s the sort of film that backdrops the action in Berlin against anti-G8 protests, without supposing for a moment there might be comic value to businesses competing in an anti-capitalist environment. The hectic pace and incessant soundtrack of Unfinished Business aren’t half so unforgiving as its comedy is relentlessly toothless.
This wouldn’t be a problem if Unfinished Business was trying to get chuckles out of 9-to-5ers from yesteryear, but the film caters to an audience that grew up on the raunch of American Pie and Eurotrip, viewers who now find themselves languishing in cubicles. Unfinished Business wants to cut loose and get crazy, but it’s too tired to achieve any original or consistent anarchy. Vaughn, as the straight man and heart of the operation, spends half the film either Facetiming his troubled kids, or narrating how much it stinks that his job gets in the way of his family.
Franco, meanwhile, seems to be competing with his older brother over who can turn an inch of a dopey character into the more deranged mile. The closest Mike ever comes to making sense is the revelation that he is, in fact, mentally handicapped, a fact everyone in the film seems comfortable ignoring. But the real shame here is Wilkinson, not for the embarrassments he puts himself through, but for not being allowed to go even further. He seems game, and adds an ironic gravitas to the film’s safe brand of racy dialogue, but when a 67-year-old Brit is the most dangerous thing in your smut comedy, that’s a problem.
Unfinished Business hurtles from comic setpiece to comic setpiece, with all of two rising to the level of amusing (casual conversation in a glory hole-filled bathroom has a gross-out sweetness, before the scene goes exactly where you expect it to). Despite its third act turn being the byproduct of a marathon (for reasons too incomprehensible to explain, much as Vaughn’s voiceover tries), Unfinished Business sprints desperately forward to maintain any sense of momentum, no more so than when getting into or out of its attempted mayhem. It’s a weekend warrior whose wild streak is dead-ended at every turn by complacent mischief and cloying sentimentality. For a film trying to prove itself unhinged, Unfinished Business is less volatile than an evening of red wine and Sunday night cable.