I wonder if Ken Scott’s Unfinished Business started out as a comedy; at least, I mean, the kind of comedy that it eventually became. There are really two movies at work here. The first one is a surprisingly earnest story about overworked small-business owner Daniel Trunkman (Vince Vaughn) who takes his only two employees abroad to Germany in order to close a deal that could make or break his company. He’s been away from home for too long and his children are really feeling the strain: his son is an overweight reject who resorts to petty crime in a desperate attempt to fit in with his peers, his daughter deals with the same kind of suffocating peer pressure by violently lashing out and attacking her classmates. These scenes could have been easily played for cheap laughs, but they are treated with the kind of sober emotional dignity that they deserve, much like they are in the films of John Hughes.
The problem is that this movie shares screen-time with a mid-2000s shock comedy. Hardly five minutes go by without something gross or disgusting happening. Daniel’s “senior” employee Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson) has a weird habit of randomly interjecting details about his failing sex life into normal conversations. And that’s when he’s not ordering strippers or taking ecstasy and getting into naked pillow-fights with a room full of inebriated Europeans. The “junior” employee Mike Pancake (Dave Franco) is an insufferable dweeb who is strongly implied to be literally, functionally retarded. He has two big shticks. First, he has difficulty understanding and pronouncing big words (which considering his probable disability makes these scenes seem cruel and mean-spirited instead of funny). Second, he is hopelessly naive about sex. While visiting a European sauna he is incapable of preventing himself from shouting at the top of his voice, “Look! Butt-cracks! Boobies!!” One of the most uncomfortable moments of the film involves him traveling to a gay bar where he has a series of unpleasant (and graphic) encounters with a bathroom glory hole. And the less said about the “wheelbarrow position” scenes referenced in the trailer, the better.
Unfinished Business simply isn’t sure what kind of a comedy it wants to be: Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) or Eurotrip (2004). You can’t combine emotional pathos with shock humor because the latter, by its very nature, is a spectacle. And spectacles jolt the audience into a state of self-awareness that largely severs emotional connections with the onscreen characters. So when Daniel puts on teal mascara during an online video chat with his son in order to cheer him up, we can’t help but remember that just a few minutes earlier we saw him get smacked in the back with a gigantic penis at an S&M street festival.