Poor Vince Vaughn. At one point, he was one of the wildest and most unpredictable comedy performers in indie film. Then, for a while he managed to bring his off-kilter machine-gun rants into the mainstream with considerable success. He’s a strong screen presence and pretty damn funny when he’s on. So what the hell happened to his career?
For almost a decade, Vaughn has floated from one deeply disappointing comedy to the next and it’s starting to get embarrassing just to see his face pop up in a trailer. Maybe these are just the best scripts that he’s offered and he has convinced himself that he can make them magic on the set. Or maybe the guy just stopped caring. Either way, it’s hard to remain a Vince Vaughn fan. It almost feels like he’s actively trying to make everyone who used to love him hate him by starring in absolute trash like ‘Unfinished Business’.
The movie opens with a little riff on ‘Jerry Maguire’ as Vaughn triumphantly announces that he’s had enough of working at his company and is starting his own business. He fast-talks two people into joining him: an elderly loser played by Tom Wilkinson and a young loser played by Dave Franco (who’s probably the best part of the movie, if you’re generous enough to say it has “best parts”). We then jump ahead a year. Shockingly, things are not going well for the independent trio. Their business is failing and, in accordance with traditional screenwriting contrivances, they have one last big European deal to nail to save their company.
They fly around courting the heads of another company, played by Nick Frost and James Marsden. Things get really tricky when Vaughn’s old boss and former lover Sienna Miller shows up as competition. Cue little guys vs. big guys shenanigans. Plus, you can also expect a surprising amount of earnest drama despite what the trailers suggest. You see, we live in a recession so director Ken Scott (‘Delivery Man’) and company have decided that a beer-swilling comedy is just the vehicle to finally get to the core of economic unease.
Yeah, that wasn’t the best approach. The biggest problem with the movie is its central identity crisis. We’re supposed to be thrilled by Vince Vaughn’s comedy rants and also tear up at his struggles to support his family. We’re supposed to laugh hysterically about how stupid Dave Franco is and feel bad that he might actually be mentally challenged. It’s a slingshot tonal approach that has worked well in many sensitive or quirky indie dramedies, but really isn’t suited to a big Hollywood comedy with such subtle gags as characters cowering in fear from a German sausage party set during a gay fetish festival (get it?).
Sure, Judd Apatow movies have heart beneath their filth, but that’s earned through creating characters who at least appear to spring from the real world. ‘Unfinished Business’ feels like a script that started as an earnest attempt to reflect on the shattered dreams of men suffering through the recession, which a studio executive insisted be rewritten to feel more like ‘The Hangover’ in order to make some bucks.
At least the actors give it their all. Vaughn might make half-assed movies, but he always tries to sell them hard. Dave Franco is quickly emerging as a genuinely oddball comedic presence who desperately needs to find a project worth his time and talent. Wilkinson’s wonky American accent hasn’t gotten any better, but at least he can lend a certain level of credibility to a role unworthy of it. Folks like Frost, Marsden and Miller do what they can with flat supporting roles. The movie has some minor pleasures to be found snuck in amongst the swill, simply because the cast is better than the material. But with movies like ‘Unfinished Business’, that almost makes things worse. This cast should be making a strong comedy script soar, not sweating to make an ill-conceived mess moderately watchable.
Ultimately, the movie should only be seen by Vince Vaughn completists, and it’s hard to imagine that there are many of those forgiving folks left. I’m certain that, at some point, Vaughn will find a movie that can milk his middle-aged hangdog stares and explosive rants for comedy gold. This just isn’t that movie, nor are the last nine films he’s headlined. Maybe he just needs a new agent. Surely there must be better screenplays out there that he could make. There’s no way that ‘Unfinished Business’ is as good as it gets for that guy.