The Dilemma

© 2011 Ray Wong

When we think of Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, we think of silly buddy comedies. When we think of Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder, we think of sophisticated women. And when we think of Ron Howard, we think of heart-warming crowd pleasers or blockbusters. That's why The Dilemma turns out to be such a strange bedfellow with this group of filmmakers.

Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) have been best friends since college. For twenty years, they've been a good team in business as well: He's an extroverted, smooth-talking salesman and he's a shy engineering genius. They're on the verge of breaking in and making a big deal with Chrysler. Also, inspired by the loving relationship between Nick and his wife Geneva (Winona Ryder), Ronny is ready to pop the question to his girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly).

Then Ronny discovers something: Geneva is cheating on Nick with a younger man named Zip (Channing Tatum). Ronny agonizes over whether to tell Nick, his best friend, about the affair. As Nick is working long hours and under stress to deliver a prototype that may make or break their deal, Ronny opts to keep his mouth shut for the time being. But he warns Geneva to break it off with Zip, or else he will tell Nick. Instead, Geneva threatens him with a secret they both have been keeping from Nick since college. Furthermore, Ronny learns of Nick's little secret as well.

Suddenly, Ronny doesn't know who to trust anymore. People he thinks he knows turn out to be something else. He begins to suspect Beth, too, when he receives a phone call from Las Vegas. Is Beth going to leave him? His own paranoia, coupled with his dilemma, unnerves him and he starts to act erratically and unravel.

Vince Vaughn (Couples Retreat) is back playing a similar role. I'm starting to question his range, but I know he can do better, having seen him in Swingers and Return to Paradise. But lately, Vaughn has been stuck in the same role -- he practically plays the same guy in every movie he's been in for the last 10 years. He's become predictable and boring. Similarly, Kevin James (Grown-ups) has been playing the same lovable teddy bear. I understand they're playing to their strengths, as they're strongly typed in these roles. Still, it gets tiring. At least this time James has a chance to show his darker side: his character is not as sweet and lovable as he seems. At least James has a chance to expand his range a bit.

Jennifer Connelly (He's Just Not That Into You) needs better materials. Lately, she's been doing the same thing as well. We'd like to see her in better roles such as hers in Requiem for a Dream or A Beautiful Mind, for which she won an Oscar. She's lovely in this film, but doesn't have much to do. Winona Ryder (Black Swan) has a much better role, playing Nick's conniving but vulnerable wife. She's staged a great come-back and this role may help bring her back on the A-list again.

Channing Tatum (Dear John) seems to have fun playing Geneva's hunky but drugged-out boy toy. His wacky character is one of the highlights of the film. Queen Latifah (Just Wright), on the other hand, has nothing to do but to dole out crass sexual innuendos. There's not much point to her character and her spirited performance is thus wasted.

Written by Allan Loeb (The Switch), the story is a mix of comedy and drama. Marketed as a broad comedy, though (especially with a cast including Vaughn and James), it is a disappointment. There's hardly any laughs, and except for a few scenes, Vaughn and James aren't funny. The subject matter -- infidelity -- is far too serious for a comedy. However, my biggest problem with the screenplay is the characters and their motivations. Ronny's reactions, behaviors, and mental struggles are out of proportion. We're led to believe he feels that way because he is Nick's best friend, but to me, it makes him look crazy.

The central question of "should you tell your best friend his wife is cheating on him?" is an old and clichéd one as well. I think Geneva said it best, "Stay out of my marriage." I agree with her, and that makes Ronny's character all the more insufferable, how he meddles and manages to make things worse, how he preaches about honesty and yet is keeping secrets. He's a hypocrite, and his behaviors make him even less likable. I mean, how can you make the only character who hasn't done anything wrong to be the least likable in a movie about infidelity?

There are tons of plot holes, too, and the subplot seems trivial to the central themes of the movie. The plot also feels forced, with plenty of contrived situations.

Ron Howard's (Angels & Demons) direction is workmanlike, but far from masterful. In fact, I didn't realize it was a Ron Howard's film until the credit started rolling. It's not to say it's not a handsome production. It is. There's simply nothing to write home about. Coupled with the plot that drags and baffles at places, and the fact that it can't decide if it's a comedy or a drama, the film falls flat.

I now have a dilemma: Should I give it a C or C+?

Stars: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly, Winona Ryder, Channing Tatum, Queen Latifah
Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Allan Loeb
Distributor: Universal
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements, sexual content, partial nudity
Running Time: 112 minutes


Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 7
Production – 8

Total – 6.8 out of 10

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