New films: Unfinished Business and Still Alice

Vince Vaughn as Daniel Trunkman in Unfinished Business

Vince Vaughn as Daniel Trunkman in Unfinished Business

0
Have your say

Vince Vaughn stars in road trip comedy Unfinished Business

UNFINISHED BUSINESS (15)

Vince Vaughn’s career has been in a nosedive since the glory days of Wedding Crashers and Mr & Mrs Smith in 2005.

A leading role in the second series of the gritty TV crime drama True Detective later this year should help him regain altitude, but in the meantime, we have to suffer another bumpy comedy ride as passengers on this ham-fisted road movie.

Directed by Ken Scott, who helmed Vaughn in Delivery Man, Unfinished Business is a preposterous story of a family man who risks everything – including his dignity – to close a business deal.

Scriptwriter Steve Conrad addresses issues of learning disability, teenage cyber-bullying and homosexuality with all of the finesse of a carpenter shaping wood with a pneumatic drill.

One crass and offensive set-piece at a gay fetish night lazily peddles stereotypes, while another pivotal scene in a sauna tackles nudity and prudishness with the sniggering and leering of a hormone-crazed schoolboy.

Amid the bad taste interludes, Conrad attempts to deliver poignant sermons on the power of friendship and family unity to overcome adversity.

His clumsy words fall on deaf ears.

Dan Trunkman (Vaughn) is a salesman at Dynamic Progressive Systems, who sacrifices precious time with his wife (June Diane Raphael) and two children (Britton Sear, Ella Anderson), to earn meagre commissions on the road.

Following an argument with spiteful sales manager Chuck Portnoy (Sienna Miller), Dan quits and establishes himself as a hardworking small-business owner.

His fledgling company, Apex Select, has two employees: Mike Pancake (Dave Franco), the butt of many of the film’s mean-spirited jibes, and Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson), who is trapped in a loveless marriage and craves sexual thrills from other women: “I would settle for one shade of grey,” he laments.

Dan breathes a huge sigh of relief when he closes a major deal with Jim Spinch (James Marsden) that simply requires a handshake in person.

Dan flies off to close the deal, flanked by Timothy and Mike.

Upon arrival, the trio learns that Chuck is in town to steal the business for Dynamic so Dan resorts to extreme measures to win the contract, embarking on a madcap series of misadventures that includes an embarrassing detour to a gay fetish event with Spinch’s assistant (Nick Frost).

Unfinished Business is a catastrophe.

Jokes fall uncomfortably flat and half-hearted attempts to empower Franco’s sweet, trusting character are constantly undermined by mean-spirited jibes at his expense that leave a nasty taste in the mouth.

Vaughn, Wilkinson and Franco catalyse lukewarm screen chemistry while British star Frost may never recover from the indignities afforded him.

RATING: 3/10

CHAPPIE (15)

Expanded by South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp from his 2004 short film Tetra Vaal, Chappie is a futuristic thriller, which hardwires the heavy-armoured brutality of RoboCop with the childlike wonder of Short Circuit.

It’s an unlikely mechanised hybrid and the script, co-written by Terri Tatchell, suffers abrupt shifts in tone within an episodic narrative that poses but doesn’t answer unsettling questions about artificial intelligence and our rush to supplant human imperfection with clinical robot precision.

The delicious irony of Blomkamp’s endeavour is obvious: the eponymous police droid wouldn’t exist on the big screen without digital trickery, replacing Sharlto Copley’s on-set performance, frame by frame, with a battery-powered doppelganger.

Beneath Chappie’s battle-scarred titanium shell beats a very vulnerable, human heart.

Blomkamp remains in his native South Africa, where he made his mark with the Oscar-nominated District 9, and sets the film’s murky moral quandaries against a vibrant backdrop of inner-city hustle and bustle and ramshackle shanty towns.

He bolts on an array of home-grown actors plus international talent using native accents: English, American, Australian and subtitled Afrikaans.

The year is 2016 and crime rates in Johannesburg are falling thanks to robot police droids called Scouts, manufactured by Tetra Vaal under the aegis of CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver).

Fresh-faced engineer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is the genius behind the Scout program and his celebrity status is a thorn in the side of rival engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), whose crude, heavily armed prototype Moose has been side-lined by the rousing success of the Scouts.

Deon wants to take his program to the next level and hopes to give birth to a fully conscious artificial intelligence.

He conducts experiments in secret, only to be kidnapped during the testing phase by low-level criminals who stumble upon Deon’s childlike robotic creation, christened Chappie (Copley), and decide to corrupt the automaton for a heist.

Punctuated by propulsive action sequences, Chappie bears obvious similarities to RoboCop.

The design of the war-mongering Moose robot owes a small debt to the lumbering ED-209 from Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 blockbuster, albeit with rocket thrusters and a dizzying arsenal of weaponry.

Copley elegantly conveys the inquisitiveness of the new born hero and Jackman growls and grimaces as a swarthy villain, who exploits Chappie’s unethical creation for personal gain... even if that means reducing half of the city to rubble.

Weaver is shamefully underused but is hopefully just warming up for her return to the Alien franchise with Blomkamp at the helm.

That’s a sci-fi adventure to really get your hard drive whirring.

RATING: 5/10

STILL ALICE (12A)

Memories are twinkling stars in a celestial map linking our past, present and future.

Some of these glittering orbs dim naturally over time, such as first experiences from childhood, while others are temporarily obscured by the fog of modern life, like when we forget a friend’s birthday, what we dreamt last night, to water the plants or the last place we saw a set of keys.

Alzheimer’s is an incurable neurodegenerative disease that slowly robs a patient of the ability to see these stars and chart a safe passage back to the people they love.

Names and faces of friends and family fade to black.

For those left behind, staring into the unblinking eyes of a close relative who no longer recognises you, is an anguish that defies words.

Julianne Moore delivers an Oscar-winning performance as a forty-something mother faced with an early diagnosis of this cruel disease in Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s heartfelt drama.

Based on the novel by Lisa Genova, Still Alice simply, yet powerfully, conveys the emotional devastation for the central character and the ripple effect for her family.

Celebrated linguistics professor Alice Howland (Moore) leads a charmed life.

She has a husband John (Alex Baldwin) and three grown-up children, Anna (Kate Bosworth), Tom (Hunter Parrish) and Lydia (Kristen Stewart), who are forging divergent paths through life.

During a lecture that she has rigorously prepared, Alice inexplicably loses her train of thought.

“I knew I shouldn’t have had that champagne,” she jokes to appreciative giggles from her audience.

Alice begins to forget simple vocabulary and seeks guidance from family medic, Dr Benjamin (Stephen Kunken).

He rules out tumours or a stroke but suspects that Alice is exhibiting the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

“It would be rare for someone as young as yourself, but you do fit the criteria,” he tells her soberly.

Tests confirm the doctor’s fears and since the condition can be passed down, Alice calls together her brood.

She advises her children to be tested, which poses a dilemma for Anna and her husband Charlie (Shane McRae), who are expecting twins.

Anchored by Moore’s spellbinding work, Still Alice is a modern family portrait that will strike an unsettling chord.

Baldwin tugs our heartstrings and Stewart offers strident support as the youngest member of the clan, who moves back home to reconnect with her mother while there is still time.

“I wish I had cancer,” Alice tells John. “I wouldn’t feel so ashamed. When people have cancer they wear pink ribbons for you and go on long walks and raise money.”

Still Alice feels no shame or cloying self-pity.

Writer-directors Glatzer and Westmoreland treat characters with sensitivity, touching lightly on the frustrations and blind terror that will become more frequent for Alice and her inner circle as the disease progresses.

RATING: 7/10