Vince Vaughn Comedy Is Not So Fun, Fun, Fun On The Autobahn
DIRECTED BY KEN SCOTT/2015
I can’t imagine that the world has been longing for yet another Vince Vaughn comedy, but apparently Hollywood considered the niche unfinished business.
“Unfinished Business”, the title of this very forgettable if also not unpleasant corporate travel shenanigans movie, might also describe the work of the gag writers on the screenplay. With its three narrowly defined central characters (the over-confident leader, the sexually frustrated older guy, and a slow-on-the-uptake young guy) going through the motions of trying to land the Big Deal in Berlin while manage their home lives from afar, Unfinished Business is nothing more than a visually flat sit-com with boobs, penises, and an overseas passport.
Like most American comedies these days, Unfinished Business has sufficient chuckles, but no belly laughs. It’s another step down from Starbuck director Ken Scott, who went on to remake that film as Delivery Man, with Vaughn. There are a lot of gags that play like slice of life bits that might sound more entertaining when relayed verbally by a friend who’s seen the film than when actually seen. (They go the wrong way on the Autobahn, Vaughn feigns Facetime freeze-ups, and has to jog in his wife’s running gear, thanks to his letting his young daughter pack for him.)
It’s all a desperate attempt to be a low brow “Office Space” with frequent flier miles, something that traveling business men can maybe embrace, identity with, and bond over in years to come.
Then there’s the film’s real attempted bread and butter, the semi-raunchy awkward encounters that occur when the guys, so desperate to track down so-and-so at all hours to approve “their numbers” for the upcoming Big Meeting, end up in a nude unisex schvitz or the multi-purpose restroom of a leather bar. The business-suited Vaughn being belittled by a brash naked German lady in a steam room isn’t completely unfunny, but it is comedically lazy.
The latter confrontation, attempting laughs via gay cultural practices of anonymous public sexual encounters, similarly relies upon the uncomfortable possibilities of placing Vaughn into a room full of faceless male members poking through holes in walls, pointed at him while he tries to casually talk business. The settings all wrong, and the comedy’s as limp as the discussion topic, but we’re meant to admire his determination. As singer/songwriter Michael Roe sang, he’s the cock of the walk, but he can’t walk his talk.
Vaughn plays St. Louis (although it’s not my St. Louis…!) suit and family man Dan Trunkman. He’s a smarmy wiseacre who thinks he’s got it all figured out. In other words, it’s the kind of part that the actor can play in his sleep. For Trunkman, when the going gets tough, the tough go to Germany. At home, his overweight teenage son is being cyber bullied, and his younger daughter is getting into trouble for scrapping. Amid all this, his wife finds time to call her man for a little sexy phone fun. Ooops, speaker-phone in the full car!!!
Tom Wilkinson, of all people, plays Timothy McWinters, the token horny guy. Perhaps it’s understandable that following the heat associated with his controversial characterization of Lyndon B. Johnson in Selma that the actor might seek a project 180 degrees removed from the realm of cinematic importance. If so, mission accomplished! Sienna Miller and Nick Frost show up in on-and-gone cameos, both of whom’s resumes have also fared far better lately.
The third and final member of the traveling team is one Mike Pancake, played by younger brother of James Franco, Dave Franco. If Unfinished Business were to have a lightning rod for controversy anywhere in it’s dull fabric, this character, clearly intended to be mentally handicapped, is it. Pancake is a nice guy but slow, slow, slow, leaving one to wonder how he landed this particular pressure cooker corporate job. To the film’s credit, it’s his last name, and not his apparent condition that courts him the most ribbing. A safe choice, but probably the right one.
Franco plays it all convincingly, even selling the notion that maybe such a guy could prove to be an unlikely ladies man in Berlin. (Because according to the rules of modern shenanigan group comedy, one of these guys has to get some girly action. And it’s sure not to be the married lead or frustrated old codger.) This after being the second guy in a comedy in the past two weeks to react to public female nudity by stunned pointing and announcing, “Boobs!!!” (The first was Rob Corddry in the considerably more heinous Hot Tub Time Machine 2.)
Indeed, the boobs are there for us to mentally do the same thing. Without them, and the sausage party display in the leather bar, Unfinished Business would have nothing but a few lowly f-bombs to earn it’s restricted rating. It’s all a desperate attempt to be a low brow Office Space with frequent flier miles, something that traveling business men can maybe embrace, identity with, and bond over in years to come. It’s not gonna happen, so Unfinished Business can probably go ahead and get dressed and go home.
All that said, we’ve certainly been on far worse trips with Vince Vaughn. Not that I can recall any of those, either. If the actor has set out to dazzle us once more with his well worn comedic schtick, this effort can only manage to live up to its name.