When watching an episode of Seinfeld, we witness a small collective of characters finding themselves in an array of unashamedly comedic, farcical situations, which they then expand upon and fulfil across the half hour running time. Presented with a minimum contrivance and a fluency, it shows what can be achieved, so Ken Scott’s tremendously unfunny endeavour Unfinished Business really doesn’t have any excuses.
Vince Vaughn plays Dan Trunkman, who quits his job and decides to start his own business, employing two hapless employees, Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson) and Mike Pancake (Dave Franco). The latter’s name is one of the funniest aspects to this piece, which just about tells you all you need to know. After a year with little fortune, the trio head off to Berlin to meet Jim Spinch (James Marsden) to close their biggest deal yet – though have to experience a host of misdemeanours along the way, while it transpires that Dan has some competition for the deal he so desperately needs: his old boss, Chuck (Sienna Miller).
First and foremost, this film is not funny. Given it’s a comedy and strives to be labelled as such, that proves to be a big problem. All of the situations the protagonists find themselves in feel so contrived; there’s no rhythm to the piece – no method behind the madness. Thankfully, Vaughn is as affable and charismatic as ever, bringing some life to a screenplay otherwise severely devoid of it. However there is only so much he can do, and he needs a better adversary to come up against. The leading antagonist of the piece is Chuck – but she’s far too normal, and we don’t dislike her at all, though the film is sorely in need of that conflict. With productions of this ilk, the so-called villain is often the funniest character – like Ben Stiller’s White Goodman in Dodgeball. There was the opportunity to create somebody really abhorrent, and given the movie is also about Vince Vaughn attempting to lead a group of misfits to glory, why not stick to a formula that is tried, tested and triumphant?
Scott’s inclination for poignancy works heavily against proceedings too, as rather than merely revel in the sheer absurdity of it all, there are too many mawkish tendencies that really drag this picture down. Combining comedy with pathos is an essential task, as the two notions compliment each other. But Scott has simply not earned the right to be so profound – and for a film that is completely illusory and nonsensical, it could have done with thriving in that arena, and not attempting to be something it so evidently is not.