Published Mar 06, 2015Vince Vaughn would probably know it just about as well as anyone: comedy is hard. Since his breakthrough role as Trent in Swingers back in 1996, the actor's had some success in the genre (Wedding Crashers and the underrated The Break-Up), but he's also had his share of misfires (anyone remember Couples Retreat or Fred Claus?). Adding another unfortunate entry to the latter category, Vaughn sleepwalks his way through the ill-conceived (and horribly titled) Unfinished Business, trying and failing to merge a raunchy boys-will-be-boys escapade with some mawkish family drama.
When Vaughn's Dan Trunkman is faced with taking a pay cut at his boring job selling mineral filings, he decides instead to start his own rival company and quickly hires Tim (Tom Wilkinson), a 67-year-old who's just been laid off, and Mike (Dave Franco), a painfully shy youngster whose sales experience consists solely of a stint at Foot Locker, as his only two employees. A year later, things are looking pretty grim for the business, except for one pending deal that could keep them afloat.
So they hit the road in search of that elusive handshake to close the sale, first to Maine and then to Berlin, where they meet with players like Jim (James Marsden) and Bill (Nick Frost), who are as vaguely defined as the deal itself. Along the way, they get up to all sorts of exploits — a word Mike can't pronounce in one of the film's many underwhelming running gags — as they try to stay one step ahead of Dan's old boss Chuck (Sienna Miller), who's also competing for the same deal.
It's interesting that where another of Vaughn's recent disappointments, The Internship, appeared to be constrained by its PG rating, this one seems determined to cram its crude humour where it doesn't belong. This leaves crass jokes about dirty maids, unisex saunas and glory holes bumping up awkwardly against a cloying subplot in which Dan counsels his kids at home on matters of bullying and self-esteem.
It's as if the frustratingly episodic movie were cobbled together from disparate parts of other movies, starting with the derivative comic trio at the centre of it all. Franco continually hits the same stammering note as an inexperienced weirdo long after it's lost all comedic value, while Wilkinson's tightly wound old codger seeks a divorce and a walk on the wild side, at one point declaring, "I'd settle for one shade of grey," in what passes for a funny line here.
And then there's Vaughn, who at the peak of his career would have been in the middle of the comic mayhem but has now been reduced to playing straight man for the most part while the supporting characters run amok around him. Re-teaming with Ken Scott, director of the dreary Delivery Man, he's been stripped of much of the fast-talking charm that endeared him to audiences in the first place. It's like he's so money and he doesn't even know it.