The Dilemma review

Vince Vaughn and Kevin James join forces in Ron Howard's new comedy, The Dilemma. Any good? We sent Ron Hogan to find out...

Business partners and college buddies, Ronny Valentine (Vince Vaughn) and Nick Brannen (Kevin James), are the sort of opposites-attract types you see in buddy movies. Ronny is tall, handsome, and long on charisma, despite being short on brains. Nick is short, pudgy, and as smart as he is awkward.

Between the two of them, they’re a complete, functioning person, and that’s why they work so well together. Early on in the movie, Ronny tells his lovely girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly), that Nick is his hero, mostly because Nick has been with his wife and college sweetheart, Geneva (Winona Ryder), for 20 years.

With that in mind, imagine Ronny’s surprise when he catches Geneva smooching in public with a handsome young sleazy rocker-type named Zip (Channing Tatum). Now Ronny faces the dilemma that is at the heart of The Dilemma. Does he tell his friend about his wife’s infidelity and potentially blow a crucial business deal to provide manly-sounding electric motors to Chrysler? Or does he allow his friend’s marriage to continue to be built on a sham, all in the name of business success, in spite of the toll it takes on him personally?

It’s a simple enough story made needlessly complicated by all involved in the production.

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In an attempt to be too many things to too many people, The Dilemma manages to be nothing to anyone. Despite being sold as a comedy and having a few moments of levity or attempted levity, The Dilemma is actually more of a drama. Actually, it’s not even a drama. The Dilemma is like a chick flick that just so happens to star Kevin James and Vince Vaughn. It’s a chick flick masquerading as a bromantic comedy. The Dilemma is attempting to be a Judd Apatow film, but without either the filth or the heart to pull it off.

Honestly, the most shameful part of this whole film is Queen Latifah. She’s brilliant in her five minutes of screen time, but, really? You couldn’t sneak in a few more scenes of her Susan Warner into the film somehow? She’s the best part of every scene she’s in, and she’s one of the only characters in the film to wring out more than a mild chuckle.

Everyone else in the film, from Ronny to Nick and Beth to Geneva, makes little to no lasting impact. They’re not really the sort of characters you can care for or root for Nick’s a workaholic, Beth’s a blank page, Ronny’s a scumbag, and the less said about Geneva, the better. Susan is a likable character who seems very interesting, which is why she’s not allowed to be on screen for 107 of the film’s 112 minutes.

The only really likable character in the film, aside from Queen’s Susan, is Ronny’s car. For a good portion of the movie, when Ronny is driving around playing detective, I wait for something awful to happen to that beautiful, classic American muscle car. If you’re going to give me a drama, I can’t care more about an inanimate object than I do any of the living people. If you’re going to give me a comedy, I need to be laughing so hard at what may happen to the car that I won’t be sad to see it damaged.

Once upon a time, this mix of drama and comedy was right down Ron Howard’s wheelhouse. I mean, he did Parenthood, and that’s one of the best comedy movies with dramatic elements in cinema history. It’s a comedy with substance, an emotional core. But this? This is just an atonal mess of unappealing characters in unsettling situations, and not even in the good, deliberate way.

Without any centering emotion and with a lack of appealing madcap comedy, like what worked so well in Night Shift, what ends up on the screen is a technically competent mess from a director who knows better. Or who used to know better. Maybe 10 years away from the comedy genre (and 20 years from his last good comedy flick) has sucked the skill out of Howard. Maybe he’s just a much better director of drama these days. Who knows?

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It doesn’t help Howard’s chances that the script, by Allan Loeb (Things We Lost In The Fire, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) is completely humor-free. Then again, there’s not much you can expect from the guy that wrote The Switch. He’s done good work, just not good comedies. Maybe he should stick to dramas and leave the laughter game to folks that can produce a funny script.

I’ve never seen a movie theater be so silent for so long. I actually heard individual kernels of popcorn being dropped onto the floor behind me. If it wasn’t for Queen Latifah, nobody would have managed to break the uncomfortable silence.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan’s only dilemma concerning The Dilemma was whether or not to call it the worst comedy of the new year or the worst drama of the new year. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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1 out of 5