Let’s send Vince Vaughn to Berlin on a business trip to try and win over a big new client. But let’s also set him up for some crazy exploits. Add a supporting cast of a dirty old man, a naïve grinning idiot, a ball-busting boss, and a businessman who enjoys some glory hole action. Still with me? Then let’s weave in a narrative about cyber-bullying, standing up for yourself, and being a good provider for your family. Throw in an art-themed hotel, strange encounters in a spa, women’s running gear, a G8 summit and “sex maids,” interspersed with business pitches and a lot of serious talk about some amorphous “figures” and you have all the component parts of this film. Confused? Me too. I’m guessing the director was a bit as well. That’s certainly how it felt watching Unfinished Business.
The director responsible for this is Ken Scott, whose few directing credits include the awful Delivery Man and the slightly better Starbuck. Vince plays the same character he always plays, I mean, plays Dan Trunkman, a family man who’s struggling to get his business off the ground. A fight with his boss, Chuck Portnoy (Sienna Miller), made him quit, and from that company he takes with him 67-year old Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson) and the young, deliciously-named Mike Pancake (Dave Franco). To land a major client, they travel first to Portland, Maine and then to Berlin, where they realize they’re competing for the business with Chuck. Dan is focussed on securing the deal, and so are the other guys, but Mike and the permanently horny Timothy also want to have crazy sexual adventures, as one does in Berlin. Meanwhile, Dan’s wife is back home with their two kids who are struggling with bullying, and we’re intermittently treated to scenes where Dan tries to teach his kids about standing up for themselves, and keep his wife’s requests to transfer them to a new school at bay.
It’s this duelling storyline that is the movie’s main problem. If this was a movie about guys going on a business trip where they cut loose and found themselves in crazy situations, I’d get it. But this narrative about bullying feels forced and is totally dull. Better comedies have integrated the “message” into the storyline in a more subtle way. Instead, in this movie, the bullying storyline crops up at the most annoying times. In one scene, Timothy starts telling us about his bullied youth, while hitting a bong in a circle at a hostel. No one wants to get high with the guy who needs to get his feelings about his childhood off his chest, and I certainly don’t want to watch it while stone-cold sober.
Setting most of the movie in Berlin allows the writer to use as many German stereotypes as possible. Techno music, fetish sex, naked saunas- it’s all there. A running gag is based around the idea that German words sound funny. Whoa, slow down, I don’t think I can handle the originality. It’s completely lazy writing from Steve Conrad, who also wrote The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and The Pursuit of Happyness. We go from industrial techno clubs to gay bar glory-holes to MDMA-fuelled topless pillow fights in minutes, which might sound like your last trip to Berlin, except then we’re in a boardroom making a pitch, and then Dan’s Face-Timing with his wife about private school tuition (yawn), and then suddenly we’re rolling in a giant hamster ball through a park with a slap-happy Japanese businessman. If it sounds all over the place, it’s because it is.
The acting is a mixed bag. Vince Vaughn plays the same character as always, delivering that deadpan, unflappable comedy that’s been his signature since Swingers, and he’s good at it, so it’s hard to fault him. Dave Franco has probably the best gags, but his squinty, breathy, grinning fool character can also be gratingly annoying. Tom Wilkinson is phoning it in. He’s horribly miscast, and though he’s done comedy before (the brilliant The Full Monty comes to mind), lines like “show more titty” delivered to a sex maid he’s hired come off as sad and creepy rather than the irreverent ramblings of a dirty old man. Sienna Miller delivers some crude lines in the first half hour and spends the rest of the movie being seen but never heard. She’s a female CEO who acts like a man to get what she wants, and her character is such a passé stereotype that it’s almost offensive. Nick Frost plays a businessman with a penchant for kinky gay sex which sets us up for some fun, explicit gags, but when his character is trying to service that boring bullying plotline, I’m counting the popcorn kernels left in my bag.
Ultimately, the movie just isn’t worth it. There are too many good sex comedies out there, many of them, in fact, starring Vince Vaughn, that this isn’t going to add anything to the genre. As for the message about bullying- which is, basically, that it’s not a good thing- well duh. I’d watch children’s television if I felt like I needed clarification on that subject. For the raunch, go back and re-watch Old School or Dodgeball or Google “German dungeon porn” and your time will be better served. To this movie? Just say nein.