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On the Job

20th Century Fox
 91 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by: Ken Scott
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Tom Wilkinson, Dave Franco
Unfinished Business

A popular series of television commercials for a brand of margarine a few years ago ended with the punchline, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” Similarly, it’s not nice to fool movie audiences. If you market a movie in one way, and it turns out to be a different type of film, the audience won’t forgive you. That’s the unfortunate fate that has seemingly befallen Vince Vaughn’s latest star vehicle, Unfinished Business.


If you’ve seen any of the trailers for Business, you’d probably expect the movie to be  nonstop R-rated sleaze with plenty of booze, drugs, and sex jokes, and Vaughn serving as the fast talking, devil-may-care ringmaster right in the middle of it. And you’d be about half right. The movie has all that debauchery and more, including scenes in a co-ed sauna and a gay fetish bar. But anyone expecting to see only that will be disappointed, because the other—and better—half of the movie is about a family man trying to overcome ever mounting self-doubts and be the husband and father his family needs him to be.


In some ways, Vaughn adopts his usual onscreen persona in Unfinished Business. He’s Dan Trunkman, a cocky, motor mouth industrial supply salesman who walks our on his job and starts a new company when his boss, Chuck Portnoy (Sienna Miller), cuts his pay. He’s got two employees, Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson), who was let go the same day because the company felt he was too old, and Mike Pancake, who was at the office for an interview when Dan stormed out. They operate Dan’s new company out of a Dunkin Donuts and, one year later, they are nearly broke.


Dan’s last chance to save his company will require him to land a big deal with a major European conglomerate, so he and his two employees fly to Berlin to try to close the deal. Dan’s case appears hopeless because Jim Spinch (James Marsen), the smarmy executive who is evaluating the bids, merely brought Dan in to make it look as if multiple offers were being considered. Instead, Jim is ready to award the deal to Chuck Portnoy, who’s also in Berlin.


As if Dan didn’t have enough business problems, he’s having to deal with crises at home. His overweight son is being relentlessly bullied by the children at school while his daughter has anger control issues of her own. Dan’s wife wants to enroll their son in private school, but Dan won’t have the money to do that if he doesn’t land the deal. He feels so helpless about his situation that he’s reduced to pretending the Skype feed has failed when he talks to his son.


There’s enough good material in Unfinished Business for a good dramedy about corporate pressure in the social media era, a cross between The Company Men and Up in the Air. And I have a feeling that this was the type of movie that Vaughn, director Ken Scott, and screenwriter Steve Conrad set out to make. Scott directed Vaughn’s last starring vehicle, the somewhat more mellow restrained comedy, Delivery Man. I do think that Vaughn is looking to change his image with more serious roles, as evidenced by his upcoming appearance on HBO’s True Detective.


Unfortunately, whatever Vaughn and company’s true intentions were, they seem to have gotten lost in a barrage of R-rated sex, drug, and drinking humor. Sometimes, it even appears as if Conrad ran completely out of ideas for crude jokes so the movie instead substituted multiple generic, slow motion, montage party scenes featuring Vaughn, Wilkinson, and Franco consuming copious amounts of liquor and drugs and then acting stupidly. There’s even a co-ed pillow fight that makes no sense whatsoever.


Although a lot of this crudity is repetitive and overdone, a fair amount of it is funny as well. Much of the humor comes from Dave Franco’s winningly sweet performance as Mike, a complete innocent who we later learn is developmentally challenged. The movie portrays him in an extremely kindhearted manner so that the audience laughs with him, just as Dan and Timothy accept him despite his screw-ups (including a hilarious episode in which he orders a rental car with a German-speaking GPS system instead of an English one, so it will know all the German street locations).


Unfinished Business’s crudity is often a rough fit with the more serious aspects of the movie. Dan is a far cry from Vaughn’s usual unflappable characters. While he perseveres on the business front, his doubts as a husband and father humanize him. Ironically, he and his company actually have the best bid for the job because they’ve done all the hard work and put together a solid proposal; the only problem is whether Dan can cut through corporate red tape and backstabbing and find someone to whom they can demonstrate that fact.


Of course, the people who think that the height of cinematic humor is for Dave Franco and a Japanese businessman to guzzle tequila and slap each other between shots will not be all that interested in Vince Vaughn’s family issues and will fret that the movie wastes time covering that. For that reason, Unfinished Business seems to be well on its way to box office failure. To make matters worse, cramming too much grossout humor and incoherent party scenes into the movie deprives Scott and Conrad of the time needed to develop their characters, specifically Wilkinson’s Timothy McWinters, who represents a big missed opportunity. Still, half of a decent movie is a considerable improvement over dreck like Hot Tub Time Machine 2, which could barely manage half a minute of decent material. The best thing to come out of Unfinished Business may be Vince Vaughn’s long overdue maturation as a more serious actor. He’s still a bit of an unfinished product, but he’s making progress on closing the deal. 

Read other reviews of Unfinished Business:


Unfinished Business (2015) on IMDb