That the latest purported fraternal romp from Vince Vaughn centers around the grueling, monotonous world of the prototypical sales representative would seem to suggest the well finally running dry. But let’s at least give credit where credit’s due. The bait-and-switch act that virtually all of Vaughn’s films have pulled over the last dozen years since the release of Old School and Dodgeball comprise an impressive quantity of minute variations on a theme that shouldn’t work. And usually don’t. Most definitely not this time. And one of the reasons for that may be that Unfinished Business stretches the basic premise unifying the Vaughn canon too far afield.
In the film, Vaughn plays Dan Trunkman, a mid-level white-collar businessman who fancies himself a David Mamet warrior, fears he’s aging into a Willy Loman, and thus reacts to the news of an impending pay cut with the self-righteousness of Jerry Maguire taking his goldfish with him along with his pink slip. Vowing to beat his old boss (Sienna Miller) at her own game, he recruits two associates from his former office to join him in creating a competing startup. Neither of the two—the defeated and well-past-retirement-age Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson) and the keen but dim Mike Pancake (Dave Franco)—are exactly sharks. One year later, and Dan still has them on his team, all three still limping toward their first big deal handshake, a quest that takes them to Berlin.
In virtually no other Vaughn film would his character begin his journey in this default position of nurturer. The whole point of his cinematic existence, the entire reason people continue to go to his films despite the fact that it became quite clear eight films ago that they would always be as formulaic and programmed as Girl Scout cookies, is that Vaughn is a paragon for reformed chauvinism. He’s an irrepressible but highly tamable id. Not so here. Dan not only retains his two sparkle-free employees long after any reasonable professional would have cut them loose, but also bends over backward to be a reasonable, selfless father to his sensitive children. (The movie practically turns into one big “It Gets Better” bullying PSA whenever dealing Vaughn’s big-boned son.) Without the promise of character reform, there’s no comedic tension underlining Dan and company’s desperate trip to Berlin, and there’s nothing at stake over their wheelbarrow-sexing, gloryhole-stumbling, giant hamster ball-rolling antics.