January 13, 2011

The Dilemma

Not just gay, but Injuns, too.

Grade: C +
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly, Channing Tatum, and Queen Latifah
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 51 min.

If only The Dilemma were as edgy as the pejorative use of the word “gay” that controversially found its way into trailers for the film (and which remains in the movie itself). The principal dilemma plaguing this serio-comedy is a bad case of identity crisis. Unsure whether it should be a side-splitting bromance or a dark farce on relationships and obsession, the film ends up cutting the baby in half, a solution that is never very good for the baby.

Someone who didn’t know better might reasonably think this is yet another bad American knockoff of an already middling French comedy (it isn’t). Best buds and auto design business partners Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) are on the verge of a lucrative business deal with Chrysler to develop motors for electric cars that sounds like classic 1970s muscle cars. However, while contemplating whether to finally pop the question to his girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly) at a Chicago botanical garden, Ronny discovers that Nick’s wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) is cheating on her husband.

To tell or not to tell, that is the question. Complicating the answer is Ronny’s concern that Nick hearing the bad news from him might jeopardize their friendship and impending business deal. So, Ronny chooses a third option: confront and threaten Geneva to dissuade her infidelity, peep and break into the apartment of her tattooed inamorato (Channing Tatum) to gather evidence of their indiscretions, and secretly stalk Nick after finding out his friend trawls Vietnamese massage parlors in search of happy endings.

Ryder’s presence is enough to awaken the inner 80s’ child of viewers of a certain age. Indeed, Geneva’s mixture of sexy and crazy effectively piggybacks off Ryder’s own persona – Ronny refers to Geneva as “Sybil” at one point (after mistakenly saying “Helen Keller”).

However, Allan Loeb’s screenplay lunges hither and dither, tossing out subplots that accomplish little except further muddy the narrative waters, like Ronny and Geneva’s college-age secret and Ronny’s dormant gambling habit. James, a gifted comic, is effectively neutered. We presume Beth is cool because she’s a chef, gorgeous, and plays a mean game of ping-pong; otherwise, Connelly serves little purpose as Ronny’s unaware mate. And, I still have no idea what Queen Latifah – as an automotive consultant – is doing here.

Ultimately, The Dilemma is squarely a Vince Vaughn vehicle, as his outsized personality dominates every scene. Good thing, too, since it seems director Ron Howard only makes movies nowadays so his father and brother can find work. Vaughn customarily adlibs his way into the film’s lone laughs, departing from a script that constantly disservices him with scenes where he manically chases someone down with a homemade blowtorch, offers the most uncomfortable wedding anniversary toast ever, and – most incredulously – attempts to barter with God while sitting at a bus stop.

There’s some latent allegory buried deep in Ronny and Nick’s motor project – something to do with things not always being as they seem. Unfortunately, it applies to The Dilemma, a comedy that not hilarious and a drama that’s never smart or serious enough.

Neil Morris

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