Unfinished Business

Posted on March 5, 2015 at 5:59 pm

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015

“Unfinished Business” is a story about three renegade renegades from bureaucracy going up against The Man and the importance of the individual in an era of soul-grinding corporatism. But the movie itself is clearly the product of institutional over-management, as though it was put together by a committee and then circulated for sign-off through a dozen different divisions. The result is a weird and sadly sour mash-up of wild, raunchy comedy, underdog triumph, and treacly family story about how much daddies love their children. Plus random switches of location, tired jokes about glory holes in gay bars, and stunningly off-kilter “humor” about developmental challenges. And much assumed hilarity about someone’s funny name, which is not even that funny. Vince Vaughn looks tired throughout and not just because his character is exhausted. The original title, “Business Trip,” would have better described the storyline. The current title better describes the film.

Vaughn plays Daniel, who in a “Jerry Maguire” moment begins the film by quitting his job as a salesman for some faceless conglomerate that sells something. His boss, Chuck (Sienna Miller, very funny and underused) has told him he has to take a pay cut. So he walks out, and two men come along. One is old and bitter (Tom Wilkinson as Timothy). One is young and naive (Dave Franco as Mike). But they have grit and dreams and determination. A year later, they have just one last chance to keep their enterprise going. The deal has been approved. They just need to fly to Portland, Maine for the handshake. Yes, a handshake is all it takes to shake that money tree. We won’t waste time on the sloppiness in the portrayal of “business” in this film, except to note that it is consistent with the lack of energy throughout.

At first it seems there will be some connection between the bullying issues faced by Daniel’s children and his relationship with Chuck. Instead, we get to hear Timothy whine about his bad marriage and how much he wants to have sex, wheelbarrow style. Or another joke about Mike Pancake’s last name or his inability to master basic vocabulary (while somehow doing an excellent job putting complicated pricing figures together).

But before they can get to the handshake, they have to get through Chuck, who is there chatting up the client with jokes that are just smutty enough to make her look like a “cool girl,” and undercutting their prices to drive them out of business. This means they end up going to Germany for yet another meeting, so that lots of things can go wrong in ways that are supposed to be funny along the way. The car flips over. A crucial agreement cannot happen unless they track down a female colleague in a co-ed spa, who of course insists that Daniel remove his clothes to show his, uh, commitment or something. The guys end up at a gay bar, a youth hostel, an anti-G8 demonstration, and a very revealing art installation, as Daniel tries to re-do his numbers to undercut Chuck and keep up with some bullying problems his children are dealing with at home. At one point, he ends up walking (and then running) around in teal eyeshadow, and we perk up for a moment, thinking something that isn’t banal and formulaic is going to happen, but no such luck.  The storyline, like the comedy, is unfinished, too.

Parents should know that this movie includes constant very strong language, extended male and female nudity, very explicit sexual references and situations, drinking, drug use, bullying, and comic peril and violence.

Family discussion: Why did Daniel have trouble with the homework assignment? Should he have told his wife the truth? How did he help his children?

If you like this, try: “The Hangover” and “The Big Kahuna”

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Posted on May 3, 2012 at 6:00 pm

A dream team ensemble cast of British acting superstars gives a predictable story of displaced retirees spark and depth in this cozy tale based on the novel These Foolish Things, by Deborah Moggach.

A group of British retirees come to India for one last adventure.  Or, they come because they have nowhere else to go.  Some have not let themselves think about which it is, or whether it is both.  Easy-going Douglas (Bill Nighy) and the perpetually disappointed Jean (“Downton Abbey’s” Penelope Wilton) come because their limited resources cannot cover the life Jean sees for herself.  “Would it help if I apologize again?” he asks.  “No, but do it anyway,” she replies.

Muriel (Maggie Smith) is appalled by having to leave “proper” Britain to live among foreigners but it is the only way she can get the operation she needs without long delays from the National Health Service.  Evelyn (Judi Dench), a recent widow in reduced circumstances, must learn to take care of herself — and finds that she likes it.  Madge (Celia Imrie, the “we’re going to need bigger buns” “Calendar Girl”) hopes to find romance.  Norman (Ronald Pickup) wants something a bit more carnal.  Graham (a courtly Tom Wilkinson) wants to reconnect with his past.  They each find The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel “for the elderly and beautiful” in Jaipur via a website.  When they arrive, they learn the description of “a luxury development for residents in their golden years” was more aspirational than accurate.   “You Photoshopped it!” one new resident accuses.  “I offered a vision of the future,” Sonny explains.  He tells them that everything will be all right in the end and “if it is not all right, it is not the end.”  

The young proprietor is Sonny (“Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel), whose grand plans and grander hopes for the hotel are so vivid he seems a bit surprised when it is pointed out that the the place is falling down and lacking some of the most basic of amenities, like doors with locks and reliable water.  There are the expected culture clashes.  The Brits are not used to chaotic riot of noise and color on the streets and the spicy food.  But it is worth it to see Maggie Smith’s disdainful expression as she nibbles defiantly on the chocolate biscuits she brought from home, pronouncing, “I won’t eat anything I can’t pronounce!”

Seeing the impeccable performances of this magnificent cast is reason enough to see the film as these actors transform the most conventional of situations by making us care about the characters and their hopes.  Wilton’s portrayal of Jean, the bitter wife, shows us how she cannot seem to find her way out of a labyrinth of disappointment.  Dench as Evelyn, sitting on the phone listening to an endless recording telling her that her call is very important, knows that she has never really been very important.  But there is something more than the kind of bittersweet but cozy story of plucky septuagenarians.  Perhaps the reason they stay in the rundown hotel is that they understand how superficial appearances are.  Perhaps the idea of restoring its grandeur to what it once was means something to them in a world where old age is “outsourced.”  It is encouraging for some of them to learn that “like Darwin’s finches, we are slowly adapting to our environment.”

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language (f-word), sexual references (gay and straight) and partial nudity, sad death, and drinking.

Family discussion: Who gets the biggest surprise?  Who changes the most?

If you like this, try: “Enchanted April,” “Monsoon Wedding,” “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont,” and “A Room With a View”

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