You gotta really like Vince Vaughn to sit through this one.
I have a soft spot for the swinger archetype. His off-the-wall performances, like the quirky music manager Raji Lowenthal in “Be Cool,” are scene-stealers and I can’t get enough of his oft-repeated calm collected motivational persona — Peter La Fleur in “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,” for example.
But lately, the Minneapolis native has headlined a streak of so-not-money flops: 2009’s “Couples Retreat,” 2011’s “The Dilemma,” 2012’s “The Watch,” 2013’s “The Internship,” and now the jumbled “Unfinished Business.”
Vaughn runs a startup scrap metal company out of a Dunkin’ Donuts with ne’er-do-wells Tom Wilkinson (“Selma”) and Dave Franco (“Neighbors”). An opportunity to stick it to their old company takes them to Germany to close a deal. Unbeknownst to the three, the G8 summit and an international gay festival have taken over the town.
Corporate comedies, the view from the bottom of the org chart, resonates with moviegoers; 2011’s “Horrible Bosses” was a breakout favorite and Mike Judge’s spot-on “Office Space” is the film against which I measure all others. But Vaughn’s latest sacrifices authentic cubicle-crowd commiseration for cheap laughs.
We’re expected to roar over Franco’s character’s name (Mike Pancake) and his commute in a giant hamster ball. Or Vaughn’s take on German immodesty, first in a steam room and then in a gay dancehall bathroom.
Interwoven is a homily on bullying, Vaughn’s raison d’être is to afford private school for his persecuted son. “Bullying used to end at 3:10,” he tells the boy, “today it continues online.” And for himself, I suppose is the connection, outside of the 9-5 day.
Perhaps the most original gag, what could have been a film unto itself, is Vaughn’s stay in the only bed available: a glassed habitat in a modern art museum titled, “American Businessman 42.”
Humor is subjective but some of the laughs here walk a fine line by any standard. Franco’s character borders on offensive (think “Tropic Thunder’s” Slow Jack). Painful to watch is Wilkinson, who’s built a significant body of work. Of course he was the old guy in the brilliant 1997 comedy, “The Full Monty.” There it was charming and poignant. Here it’s just embarrassing.
“Unfinished Business” joins the short list of comedies set in Germany. Why so few? Perhaps there’s a lack of stereotypical attributes to appropriate. I mean, how many schnitzel and sauerkraut jokes can you foist on an audience before they shout, “Nein!”
“National Lampoon’s European Vacation.” In this 1995 sequel, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) wins a trip abroad spending a good amount of time in Germany connecting with his ancestors. Unfortunately, he visits the wrong house and when his Schuhplattler dance gets out of hand, they’re forced to leave town max schnell.
“G.I. Blues.” First of all, props to Elvis for actually doing a stint in the Army. The plot? If you can call it that. Elvis is Tulsa McLean, a tank crewman with a burgeoning singing career. Some of the location footage from this 1960 musical was actually shot while he was still stationed in Germany. Listen carefully and you can hear him mumble, “You ain’t nothing but a dachshund!”
“Top Secret!” Speaking of Mr. Presley… Val Kilmer starred as a popular rock star who travels to East Germany in this goofy Elvis tribute from Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker (“Airplane”). Sample dialog: Kilmer: “Is this the potato farm?” Farmer: “Yes, I’m Albert Potato.”
“One, Two, Three.” This 1961 under-the-radar Billy Wilder comedy starred James Cagney as a Coca-Cola executive stationed in West Berlin charged with introducing the capitalistic icon to the Soviet Union. Its humor has held up longer than the wall.