Once, the term “B movie” was no insult. It meant a film that had recognizable but not bankable stars, ran about 100 minutes, offered light entertainment with a bit of a moral, and showed craftsmanship on a low budget.
We need to revive that designation for “Unfinished Business,” an unpretentiously funny picture worth more than many an expensive film. Allowing for the change in morality over the last six decades – it’s consistently crass – its message about little guys struggling to defeat a big corporation might have been made in the 1950s.
The trio are middle-aged Dan Trunkman (Vince Vaughn), elderly Tim McWinters (Tom Wilkinson) and novice Mike Pancake (Dave Franco). Dan’s mean-spirited boss (Sienna Miller) let him go when he refused a pay cut; Tim got fired because he passed 65; the impossibly naive Mike met the other two in the corporation’s parking lot after a failed interview.
They set out to conquer the world of swarf, which my online dictionary describes as “fine chips or filings of stone, metal, or other material produced by a machining operation.” They go up against the mean ex-boss in competition for an international contract that takes them to Berlin.
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Director Ken Scott, who worked with Vaughn on the ill-fated “Delivery Man,” almost never milks a gag for more than it’s worth. When the only hotel room Dan can find is in a piece of “habitable art” – he’s labeled “American Businessman 42” and visible to passers-by – Scott gets laughs without pressing too hard.
Writer Steve Conrad spends enough time with Vaughn’s family to make us feel we know him away from his job, and the script never solves problems in the usual Hollywood way. Dan’s fat son will still face bullying at school and after it, but perhaps he’s more resilient. A lonely gay business associate (Nick Frost) doesn’t find a special mate but learns to assert himself. Though the central trio narrowly escape bankruptcy, there’s no guarantee they’ll flourish. And they win out not by some phony miracle but by shaving their own profits and coming up with clever ways to cut costs.
The story unfolds against a background of nudity, drug-taking and sex, which viewers may find off-putting. Under the circumstances, I credit Scott for showing both naked men and women and, in a key sauna scene, presenting a range of bodies rather than an array of ripped guys and buxom models.
The three leads balance each other especially well: Vaughn’s ironic vulnerability and Wilkinson’s pained earnestness set off Franco’s shy optimism. (That’s a hard quality to project, and he does it beautifully.) For all the penises and “sex maids” and beer bouts, this movie has a kind of innocence that’s been appealing since the first cameras cranked out footage.
Three newbies to the world of self-management go to Berlin to win a contract in this raucous comedy.
B STARS: Vince Vaughn, Dave Franco, Tom Wilkinson, Sienna Miller.
DIRECTOR: Ken Scott.
RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes.
RATING: R (strong risqué sexual content/graphic nudity, language, drug use).