Unfinished Business is sort of like walking into a once-trendy restaurant that hasn’t updated its menu in a very long time. The food’s not bad, exactly, in fact it’s perfectly passable, but there isn’t much to recommend about it either. Do you enjoy salmon canapés on toast? Would you like to eat cocktail shrimp out of a giant margarita glass? Do you miss dry sprigs of parsley? Unfinished Business is a cinematic shrimp-cocktail-filled margarita glass, the kind of thing you can only really recommend if someone’s stuck on a layover or on a date with grandma.
Actually, maybe don’t bring grandma. Unfinished Business, to its credit, does have plenty of dick jokes – exposed dicks, talking dicks, dicks getting tugged on, dicks in bike shorts, dicks in gloryholes, dicks hitting characters in the face, characters with abnormally large dicks – in addition to a dusting of bare tits and the requisite doin’ drugs scene(s). The anachronistic aspect of it is how badly it wants to pair its bare-titted dick joke cumedy with heartfelt after school drama. Why do hijinxy sex comedy and maudlin family drama make such frequent bedfellows? What about me laughing at Nick Frost’s huge cock (note: there’s a joke in Unfinished Business about Nick Frost’s huge cock) makes you think I’m going to be touched by Vince Vaughn’s very special talk with his fat son about bullying? Also… bullying? Really? And because he’s fat? A subplot about a fat kid getting bullied has to be the laziest way to “add heart” to a sitcommy comedy, the closest you can get to actually having a character named “Studio Notes.”
Unfinished Business, from director Ken Scott, who previously directed by Vaughn’s Delivery Man and the French-Canadian comedy Starbuck upon which it was based, is basically the bastard child of Tommy Boy and Eurotrip (which, you may astutely note, came out in 1995 and 2004, respectively). Vince Vaughn plays a smooth-talking swarf salesman – swarf being an industrial metal shaving product – who refuses to take a pay cut from his evil sexy boss played by Sienna Miller. So he Jerry Maguires himself out of the office – “who’s coming with me!” – and the only ones to follow are the old guy, played by Tom Wilkinson, who the wicked slutmother has forced into early retirement, and a possibly mentally deficient interviewee played by James Franco’s gummy brother Dave. That character is named “Mike Pancake.” Soon, the three are off on a business trip to Berlin together to save their fledgling company. Incidentally, “smooth swarf salesman” and “Mike Pancake” are two of the best things about this movie.
Look, this movie isn’t horribly unfunny. It’s mildly funny, good for the occasional chuckle. It’s just kind of soulless. The characters (other than Mike Pancake, actually, who is pretty unique) are so generic that they can only really function as joke delivery devices. If that’s going to be the case, the jokes have to be really sharp. Instead they’re sort of hit and miss. There’s one interesting bit where Vince Vaughn’s character takes the last hotel room in Berlin, at a “living art exhibit,” which turns out to be a giant glass terrarium labeled “American Businessman 42.” He’s upset at first, but eventually starts talking to the visitors, narrating everything he’s doing. It’s a solid bit, because it actually evolves, it’s not generic, and it plays to Vaughn’s strengths. A lot of the other plot points feel like they came out of a book called 101 Generic B-Stories About Berlin. The fetish club, the G-8 summit, graffiti, protesters, etc. There’s even one scene about how much more sexually liberated the Europeans are, with a naked German lady calling Vince Vaughn “pilgrim” in a sauna. What year is it? Is this waiter seriously trying to toss me a Caesar salad tableside?
Even worse, Unfinished Business isn’t content to be a mildly funny sex romp through Berlin, it wants you to care about it too. And so every five minutes literal tinkling pianos kick in and Vince Vaughn has a very serious talk with someone about their Breakfast Club problems. This might work if there was any unifying theme to the drama or if it seemed believable in any way, but it just feels like transparent neediness. There’s even an attempt at a touching moment with Tom Wilkinson’s character, despite the fact that he’s totally wasted in a role that never goes beyond “Old guy who wants to get some puss.” By the way, the unsarcastic happy ending of the movie is this character getting to bang the foreign maid he initially mistook for a sex worker. You could call this offensive, but it’s more like a drunk uncle who can’t stop calling people “Orientals” – not malicious so much as a product of its time.
Moreover, why does Unfinished Business want so badly to be emotionally moving? It’s like a stripper who wants to read you a slam poem. Come on, Unfinished Business, you are late night dick at best, alright in sort of a limited way for an off night.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. You can find more of his work on FilmDrunk, the Uproxx network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.