Friday, January 14, 2011

"Dilemma" is right

The Dilemma (2011)
118 min., rated PG-13.

Director Ron Howard's latest, "The Dilemma," already has two strikes against it. One, being that it's released during cold January a.k.a. a surefire burial ground for movie duds. And two, star Vince Vaughn got flack from the GLAAD for gratuitously calling an electric car “gay” in one scene. But pffffft, it's a Vince Vaughn vehicle to run his mouth for two hours and prove his bromantic love for his big lug of a co-star, Kevin James. Right? Wrong. About the movie itself, it has a big dilemma of its own that it never gets right. "The Dilemma" isn't really laugh material, as it's darker than the false ads suggest. In fact, it's an odd, noncommittal muddle that inconsistently doesn't have the courage of its own convictions. Tone really can make or break a movie. 

Vaughn and James play Ronny and Nick, best buds and business partners for an engine-design company. Ronny's the salesman with gambling problems, and Nick's the engineer who makes the cars go vroom-vroom and cracks under pressure, especially when they're about to make a big deal with an automotive company. While Ronny's out scouting the perfect setting to pop the question to his chef girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly), he spots Nick's wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), getting intimate with a buff, tattooed younger guy named Zip (Channing Tatum). Right there, he realizes he has to tell his best buddy she's having an affair, but can't find it in himself to tell Nick. It's complicated. Why? Because there would be no movie if the confrontation wasn't delayed. 

Ron Howard's credentials as a worthwhile director aren't much use here with the material he's handed (Allan Loeb's screenplay). There is a better movie dying to break out of "The Dilemma" — it's like a dark, honest relationship drama in farce's clothing. Despite a funny, long-winded toast (about honesty) at Beth's parents' anniversary dinner by Vaughn doing one of his rambly Vince Vaughn monologues, you won't get many laughs here, unless gags about poisonous plants and painful urination scream out comedy. Or, Ronny's violent rumble with Zip (a cartoonish live-wire turn from Channing Tatum), breaking a fish tank and getting clobbered in the head with a baseball bat. These jarring, shoehorned slapstick bits would've been better left on the cutting room floor and might've tightened the strained run time. And Queen Latifah is given embarrassing material as a Dodge consultant who gets plenty of sexual innuendos in, none of them funny. Vaughn and Kevin James are fun and natural together as these hockey-watching chums who give each other straight, I-love-you-man glances; you do wish the movie was just about them. Much better is Jennifer Connelly, who's never been this loose and smiley, and brings more gravitas than to what the movie deserves. Winona Ryder performs well with what she's given, starting as an upbeat woman who loves her hubby (her early moments on the dance floor with James are sweet). But her Geneva is so underwritten and, with a flip of the plot switch, transforms into a scheming bitch (not even an interesting bitch) who doesn't garner much sympathy even when the affair is only half her fault. 

Alas, the movie is a dilemma of competing tones too sour for comedy and too broad for drama, considering nothing gets fixed until a faux therapy session. Even the on-location cinematography in Chicago is dingy. Despite some dramatic moments that work but would've worked better in a different movie, "The Dilemma" just doesn't know what it wants to be when it grows up. 

Grade: C - 

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