by Tim Ross
Little did the filmmakers of “The Dilemma” know that they would find themselves in their own dilemma while editing the film.
This is a movie that isn’t quite sure what it wants to be when it grows up, constantly edging onto very funny ground and then backing off and veering toward relationship drama. When the filmmakers are director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer, the team that brought us “Apollo 13” and “A Beautiful Mind,” it’s a surprising and disappointing revelation.
Starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, “The Dilemma” isn’t a bad movie but it could be so much better. It is billed as a comedy and a drama, but never quite reaches its potential with either and, as is happening more and more in Hollywood these days, the plot turns strain belief.
Vaughn, playing small-business owner Ronny, is given more free rein to improvise and use his comedic talents. In fact, there are long stretches of film where it sounds as if there’s no script at all and Vaughn and James are just riffing. Those are the best moments of the film.
James plays Nick, Ronny’s partner and the brains of the car-engineering outfit. They quickly find themselves in a career-changing situation when a major car manufacturer gives them the chance to design an electric engine that sounds like the muscle cars of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. If they succeed, they will be rich, if not, their business may fail altogether.
On the personal side, Ronny has a beautiful and loving girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly), and Nick, a beautiful and loving wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), but not all is at it seems. Every person in this foursome has a flaw.
The premise of “The Dilemma” is set when Ronny sees Geneva with a younger, hotter guy. Ronny is left to decide if he should tell his best friend that his wife’s cheating on him, keep the information from him to spare him the pain – and to keep him on task as they try to score the big contract – or to come up with some other way to get the information out.
The dilemma is set up early in the film and Ronny spends most of the rest of the story spying on Geneva, delivering comical speeches filled with metaphors in hopes of getting his secret out and fighting with Geneva’s lover Zip (Channing Tatum). The premise lends itself to many comedic opportunities but they’re rarely fleshed out.
Howard has shown in past films that he’s adept at sprinkling comedy into dramatic situations, but he’s less skilled at sprinkling drama into what is mostly a comedy. Vaughn also is less familiar in this setting and he has several moments that border on uncomfortable to watch as he tries to express angst, sadness or futility. James is underused and there are lost opportunities for him to shine.
As a bromance buddy film, “The Dilemma” works best. Vaughn and James are easy together and their comedic energy is in sync. The casting of their mates is more curious. Both “punted beyond their coverage,” as the saying goes in guy speak.
Ryder turns in the best performance of the film as the sultry, then sad, then conniving, then contrite Geneva but looks ill-matched with James as her husband. Even more ill-matched is Connelly and Vaughn. They just don’t look like they belong together. Where Connelly was brilliant in “A Beautiful Mind,” she’s pedestrian here.
Mention also must be made for Queen Latifah, who turns in a small but funny performance as a rep for the big car manufacturer.
“The Dilemma” cost $70 million to make, but I don’t know why. It looks like a movie that should’ve cost a lot less. I’m not telling you to stay away from this film altogether, but if you’re looking for a comedy, think twice. If you’re looking for a drama, think twice. If trying to make a decision based on this information is a dilemma, you’ll fit right in.
Grade: 2/4 Stars