The Dilemma Directed by: Ron Howard Cast: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly, Winona Ryder Running Time: Rating: PG-13 Release Date: January 14, 2011
PLOT: On the verge of a multi-million dollar deal with Dodge/Chrysler, slick salesman Ronnie Valentine (Vaughn) discovers that his best friend, and business partner, Nick Brannen (James) is being cuckolded by his adored wife, Geneva (Ryder). If Ronnie tells Nick the truth, Nick will choke, the deal will fail, and they will both lose all their savings.
WHO'S IT FOR? Really, really forgiving fans of Vince Vaughn and/or people out of touch with reality. Seriously, if you think everything Vaughn says is funny, you could happily trudge through this one.
EXPECTATIONS: It seemed like a funny idea and I like both Vaughn and James. I thought I'd be mindlessly amused, which was all I wanted.
ACTORS: Vince Vaughn as Ronnie Valentine: So, Valentine is one slick, silver-tongued devil and yet his main technique for trying to tell his best friend about Geneva's unfaithfulness is to throw grenades in people's laps and destroy everything around him? There is a better way to do it and Valentine - if he is everything the movie wants us to believe he is - would have pulled it off. These types of shenanigans are for idiot shut-ins with no social skills. The speech Valentine gives at the anniversary party for his girlfriend's parents is a particularly special blend of infuriating agony. Score: 3
Kevin James as Nick Brannen: James does his typical dopey sweetness and it mostly works. Brannen is the high-strung genius/inventor who needs to come through with flying colors and it makes sense why Valentine wouldn't immediately blurt out the bad news about the little wifey. He also manages a pretty decent impersonation of a neurotic engineer, so if only he and Vaughn had better material to work with, The Dilemma might have actually worked. Score: 5
Jennifer Connelly as Beth: You know how Jeff Bayer (who runs this site) says things like, "this female character is funny, sarcastic, and she loves sex - she must have been written by a man! Yep!" (Please see Love and Other Drugs for more details). Well, now it's my turn! Beth is gorgeous, sweet, and delightful and yet she stays with Valentine even though he's moody, secretive, chubby, and a recovering gambling addict who almost lost everything two years ago! After Valentine has ruined Beth's parent's anniversary with the most offensive speech you can manage without cursing or throwing pies, Beth ends up apologizing to Valentine and begging him not to leave. Written by a man? Yep! Sorry charlies, but this character is too cool and too lovely to believably be anyone's doormat. Score: 5
Winona Ryder as Geneva Brannen: She's cute; she's evil; she's penitent; she's a liar...hmmm...oh, wait! She's an inconsistent character written expressly to further a ridiculous plot without bothering to treat her like a real person. Now I get it! Do you want her to be a manipulative liar? Or do you want her to be an unhappy wife? And trust me, she has her reasons for being unhappy - reasons which, the movie kind of throws at you and then forgets about. This movie is like a toddler: it's already found something else to play with. Ryder is fine in the role, but the movie wants you to hate her sometimes, and sympathize with her sometimes, and all in a very ADHD, not paying attention kind of way. Score: 4
TALKING: Given the potential and the talent involved, the script is disappointingly blah and repetitive. In my mind, as soon as you let Vaughn off his leash, you have funny and unpredictable, but he isn't given the freedom here. Maybe it was kind of, sort of amusing the first time Valentine screamed, "I'm going to burn that face!" to Geneva's boy-toy, but by the six, seventh, eighth time in a row...not funny, just irritating. Score: 3
SIGHTS: The movie does a strange thing that's almost funny, where it jumps to a hypothetical scene whenever Valentine is lying to someone. It doesn't do it enough to have it be a "thing," so whenever the movie decides to, it's more jarring than anything else. When you watch the television show Scrubs you expect to go into J.D.'s head; it doesn't feel like an afterthought. There is also one, sore-thumbish dramatic slow-mo scene out of nowhere that's straight out of the Amateur Director's Handbook. Hey! Ron Howard! You've done some good work! (Frost/Nixon, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13) Why are you making decisions that a total newbie like me would make? I have no directorial experience. Aspire to do a better job than I would. Score: 4
SOUNDS: The score tells you how you should be feeling and I hate that. It's not a complement; it's a heavy-handed cue. "Psssst! This scene is dramatic! You can tell, because of the DUNDUN DUNDUNDUN DUN music!" When Valentine sits on a bench in the middle of the night and prays to God for his friend, the music is sad and swoony. Did that sentence make you want to cover your eyes and scream, "IT BURNS!" Then, like myself, you probably won't enjoy The Dilemma. Score: 2
BEST SCENE: See THE ENDING.
ENDING: I really liked the ending and not just sarcastically, because, phew, this damn movie is finally over. It's Nick and Ronnie at a hockey game, and it's a glimpse of character chemistry and pleasure that we rarely get in this bland glop.
QUESTIONS: It's getting absurd...WHY not confide to SOMEONE about what's going on, so you don't look like a giant, crazy a-hole?
REWATCHABILITY: It's long and boring and kinda dumb, so no.
To say The Dilemma is a disappointment is to give it too much credit, because no one is going to be invested enough in it to be let down. It just sort of exists there like a slightly interesting paperweight - a paperweight that overstays its welcome and embarrasses everybody. I actually found myself gritting my teeth and shaking my head back and forth, beyond pissed that I fought my way through rush hours and ice storms for this schlock. I don't usually experience anger whilst weathering a harmless comedy.
Two things that are too insulting to forgive: Valentine would have confided the issue to somebody, because it's the path of least resistance; and in working so hard to spare his friend, he humiliates himself, his friend, his girlfriend, and his girlfriend's family. It's like burning down your best friend's house to show them that they forgot to change the batteries in the smoke detectors.
Pairing Vaughn and James is a fun idea, because they work well together and it's visually so funny to see 6'5" Vaughn chumming around with 5'8" James. Put those two in a remake of The Odd Couple with Vaughn playing mellow, type-B Oscar and James as persnickety Felix Unger and you have a hefty dose of fun. The Dilemma is just a boring waste of everyone's time.
FINAL SCORE: 3/10