Movie Review: Unfinished Business
By Matthew Huntley
March 11, 2015

The stock photos may be the only funny thing about the movie - and they're not in the movie.

Unfinished Business tries to be both an insightful and honest comedy as well as zany and crude one. It fails rather greatly, though, and we wonder if this was the result of the filmmakers attempting to do something that shouldn’t be done or if they’re just not very good at comedy. I’m leaning toward the latter, since we know that mixing sincerity with obscenity can be done successfully (There’s Something About Mary, American Pie, The 40-Year-Old Virgin).

The underlying problem is the movie never seems to have a definitive audience in mind - was it intended for frat boys or more mature adults? That makes a big difference, and without a clear handle on viewership, movies tend to go astray, or in this case, turn into a very awkward mix of sometimes touching, genuine moments and completely indecent, rudimentary ones.

What’s most puzzling is Steve Conrad wrote the screenplay. He’s hardly a household name (how many screenwriters really are?), but some of Conrad’s other writing credits include the underrated The Weather Man, with Nicolas Cage as a melancholy meteorologist who reinvents himself with a bow and arrow (among other things); The Pursuit of Happyness, with Will Smith as a suddenly homeless father who must balance a full-time job and internship while still raising and protecting his son; and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, with Ben Stiller as the title character who sets out on a worldwide, larger-than-life journey seeking the perfect photograph for the final issue of LIFE Magazine.

These were all good, distinct movies in their own right, and shared the theme of men struggling to find and maintain success in the current American job system. The subject matter lent them credibility and made it easy for us to identify with the characters and their problems. After all, who doesn’t struggle to make a living?

Unfinished Business is in the same arena and Conrad once again shows his characters contending with the hardships and ultra-competitive nature of today’s economy, in this case the world of small business and how hard it is for the little guys to break into the big leagues, even if it means just making one deal that could keep them afloat. Conrad is obviously passionate about this kind of material and we get the sense he must have experienced something similar in his own life.

What I don’t think he experienced were the scenes of vulgarity and drunkenness that seem to come out of nowhere and really have no place in a movie like this, or probably any movie that matter since they’re simply not funny. Humor of this type has its place and can really make you split your gut when it’s done right, but Unfinished Business gets it wrong.

Vince Vaughn plays Dan Trunkman, a professional salesman for a reputable company out of St. Louis (what they do isn’t exactly clear, but let’s just say they sell leftover metal after large structures like bridges are built). Despite his strong performance, Dan’s snooty boss, Chuck (Sienna Miller, who looks like she wandered onto the wrong sound stage), tells him he has to take a five percent pay cut. Hurst and insulted, Dan has a Jerry Maguire-type moment and storms out, declaring he’s going to start his own company and asks the rest of the staff to join him. Nobody volunteers, but then in the parking lot, he meets the 67-year-old Tim McWinters (Tom Wilkinson), who’s just been let go due to a mandatory age cap, and the squeaky-voiced Mike Pancake (Dave Franco), who just happened to be applying for a job.

Each of these characters is essentially written as an archetype, although Dan is the only one who seems halfway believable. He’s your typical straight man with a loving wife (June Diane Raphael), an adolescent son (Britton Sear) with self-esteem issues, and a younger daughter (Ella Anderson) who’s acting out at school. Dan is basically a loving husband and father who’s trying to solve his family’s problems in addition to his own, but naturally his home and career lives are odds with each other and feels he’s being pulled in too many directions to be entirely effective. One of the movie’s better scenes finds Dan admitting he’s not sure he’s got what it takes to bear the responsibilities of all the different roles he plays and that giving up often seems like the most appealing option.

It’s a shame the movie didn’t have more moments like this, which actually rang of truth. Instead, it goes off the deep end with Tim and Mike, who prove to be distractions instead of assets. The script paints Tim as a horny old man who does sleazy things like cheat on his wife with call girls. He also has an insatiable need to take drugs and engage in other debauchery. Why Wilkinson, an otherwise gifted, sophisticated actor, chose to play this role is perplexing to say the least.

Franco, meanwhile, has the thankless task of playing Mike as an excessively slow, dimwitted virgin who’s so dense and uneducated that he doesn’t know the difference between a square and a rectangle, or how to pronounce “imperative.” His idiocy is too over-the-top to believe. To Franco’s credit, he seems too smart to convince us he’s so dumb.

The plot finds Dan, Tim and Mike embarking on an extended road trip, first to Maine then to Germany, for a “final handshake” meeting between their company and a prospective big client. Of course, roadblocks ensue, and we can believe any small business would face its share of problems; what we can’t believe are this movie’s problems. They’re too outrageous for their own good, so much, in fact, we wonder if Seth Rogen contributed to the script.

I could buy some of the dilemmas, like Dan and his team getting lost because their GPS system is in German, or the characters having to settle for unorthodox accommodations because all the local hotels are booked. What I couldn’t believe was Dan, Tim and Mike entering a German steam house, getting naked, and presenting their figures to a female business analyst; or them going to a gay night club where penises hang outside the urinal doors; or their car flipping over to avoid a reindeer.

Two entirely different types of comedies seem to be at play here - one that’s relatively grounded and halfway amusing, and another that’s completely farfetched and excessively lewd. Unfortunately, the latter ends up overshadowing the former and occupies most of the lean, 90-minute runtime. What we’re left with is a pointless, inutile comedy that I’m guessing not too many will ever see or hear about in the first place. The cast and filmmakers should take that as a blessing.