"How about you, young buck, are you starshippin' with us?"
In 2001's Made, Vince Vaughn showed that he was an absolute master of the riff. In the pre-Judd Apatow era, Vaughn dominated films like Made and Swingers with his affability and almost preternatural sense of comedic timing that made him reminiscent of a young Chevy Chase. As sad as it is, it's almost remarkable how much his entire career has begun to resemble Chase's career, particularly those dark days in the 90s when Chase began headlining films like Nothing But Trouble, Man of the House, and Cops & Robbersons. Even Vaughn's attempts to re-team with Jon Favreau have yielded colossally mediocre films like Couples Retreat, and Vaughn's mid-aughts attempt to reinvent himself as the "Christmas movie guy" calls the Chase comparison into even sharper focus.
His latest attempt to shirk his questionable status as a family friendly actor is the strangely misguided comedy Unfinished Business. In fact, the film's single biggest problem is that it's not terrible enough to write-off completely, but rather it stands as more of a curiosity, the kind of film that makes one wonder why it was even made in the first place. Too raunchy to be sweet and too sweet to be raunchy, the film blazes a trail comfortably down the middle of the road, territory where Vaughn set up shop well over ten years ago. The film opens with a scene of Vaughn walking out on his cushy job to start his own company in a scene the calls Jerry Maguire's "Who's coming with me?" scene to mind. The difference is, Vaughn's who's coming with me moment comes three minutes into the film, when very little time has been devoted to setting up anything at all, let alone the sad desperation of a moment such as this.
As the film chugs along, we get more glimpses of what Vaughn's life is like. He's got a teenage son (Britton Sear) facing serious bullying issues at school, a much younger daughter (Ella Anderson) who really misses her workaholic dad, and a wife (June Diane Raphael) who basically just stands around with her hands on her hips like a sitcom mom saying, "You boys!" and then rolling her eyes. It's an odd family dynamic, made even more odd by the film's insistence that we feel the emotional ramifications that Vaughn's decision to start his own company have had on his family. That this subplot works at all is a testament to how high the deck is stacked against Vaughn, rather than feeling organically constructed around him.
The film's plot is set in motion a year after starting his company, when Vaughn takes his two employees, horny old goat Tom Wilkinson and uncomfortably stunted man-child Dave Franco, on a trip to seal a deal with a company. Complications continue to pile up, and more obstacles are put between the team and the deal, when Vaughn's old boss (Sienna Miller) shows up with a competing bid. We're told at some point that their business involves selling metal shavings called "swarf," and the film loves to throw out business-related jargon, but the script by Steven Conrad moves so quickly from wacky scenario to wacky scenario that it's ultimately all pretty meaningless. Curiously, this is also the film's greatest asset, as I don't feel a strong desire to have spent any extra time in the set-up portion of the film, and every single one of the film's funniest gags have absolutely nothing to do with the plot.
That the film works at all is a testament to its cast. Though Vaughn seems thoroughly disconnected with the material and the character, he's still a very funny guy and his timing remains as sharp as ever, he's just hamstrung by constantly playing the straight man these days. Wilkinson is a hoot, clearly having the time of his life playing this character, and he manages to find himself at the center of all the film's funniest bits. Franco's a lot of fun as well, though his character is one of those guys who only exists in the movies, and doesn't have an ounce of truth to him. A supporting cast that includes the underused likes of Nick Frost and James Marsden also helps to elevate the film slightly, but they're done no favors by their one-dimensional characters.
Unfinished Business feels like a half formed idea for a film spread out to feature length. It manages to land a handful of legitimately funny set pieces and it moves like crazy despite the fact that there's no real engine to it. The film fails to be memorable, however, because it tries very hard to tug at your heartstrings while also giving you gags about glory holes and various other unprintable perversions. It's a decent diversion and something that will play well on cable, but it's as light as air, evaporating from your memory the moment it's over. I desperately want Vince Vaughn to get his mojo back, but he's gone more than ten years since his last genuinely funny film. Whomever he goes to for career advice following this film's drubbing at the box office, I hope it's not the same person who advised him to do any of the other films he's made in the interim.
GO Rating: 2.5/5
[Photos via Blu-ray.com]