"The Dilemma", or as my mother referred to it after watching the trailer "the film with those two doughy guys who are married to younger, prettier women" is a deplorably unfunny "comedy". I didn't expect much, maybe a few laughs, but this new film from Ron Howard (Ron Howard? the director of "Parenthood", "A Beautiful Mind", "Apollo 13"? THAT Ron Howard?) delivers even less. FAR less.
Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) are two best buddies who also work together in their own struggling Chicago-based car engine design company. After a meeting at Chrysler, to show off their new electric muscle car engine, they begin to feel a little good about things, maybe all of their hard work is finally about to pay off. They could earn a big contract making all of the years of struggle worth it. Sounds like the perfect time for Ronny to propose to his longtime girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly), a rising chef. But Ronny oversees Geneva (Winona Ryder), Nick's wife making out with Zip (Channing Tatum). Ronny threatens to expose her, but she has other ideas.
Sounds like a funny movie doesn't it? Yeah, no.
I knew it would be bad. "The Dilemma" was 'delayed' and Universal Studios 'failed to screen the film in time for reviews'. But there are two indications of how low the standards for this film truly are. The two gentlemen attend the Chicago auto show. To set the stage, Howard lingers his camera not on the woman who are posing next to the cars in silky dresses, he lingers the camera on their torsos and buts. It seems very old fashioned to even have pretty women draping themselves over cars at these shows and in commercials. Somehow, Howard makes the practice even dirtier and more reprehensible. The moment Queen Latifah's character, Susan Warner, a consultant for Chrysler, starts talking, repeatedly, about her 'lady wood', you realize how low the standards of this film are.
Howard's brother Clint pops up for a few moments, as the manager of an arboretum. He and Latifah are the only people in the entire film who seem to get they are in a comedy. Unfortunately, Clint's role is very brief.
As soon as Ronny spots Geneva cheating on his best friend, the entire film becomes two things. Both of them bad. Ronny confronts Geneva. She becomes scared and promises to tell Nick about her affair, Then Ronny learns she is still seeing Zip. She confronts Ronny. Ronny begins to suspect Beth of something. Beth begins to suspect Ronny of something. Everyone becomes extremely unpleasant. All of the characters become suspicious of one another. These actions help to establish a tone of negativity which permeates the entire film, making it unpleasant to watch.
When you go to a comedy, you want to laugh. At the very least, you hope to be amused. To make a mean-spirited film funny, you have to have the right tongue-in-cheek delivery. "A Fish Called Wanda" is a great example. Michael Palin's character, a pet-lover, accidentally kills an elderly woman's dogs. He is so distraught; the action becomes more shocking, eliciting more laughter. We also learn with him the old woman is not very likable which makes the death of the dogs a little funnier. When Kevin Kline's Otto teases Palin's character mercilessly about his stutter, it should be cringe inducing. But because we know Otto is into some kinky stuff, and is truly sadistic, the actions become funnier because we are laughing at him, not with him. In "The Dilemma', the characters are too straight to help make the mean-spirited nature of their characters seem anything but mean. There is no complexity to the characters and it almost seems like we should be watching them on some bad reality show. Free, on television. Paying to watch them be mean is insulting.
Vince Vaughn is one of a handful of actors who first made their mark in films most noted for their use of original, well-written dialogue. And he helped write that film, so the early success seems to have validated this technique in Vaughn's eyes. Since then, most of his characters are very similar, they usually live in Chicago, are usually big sports fans and usually riff endlessly on whatever the character seems to have on his mind. This was interesting, and fun at first. But now, in its umpteenth reiteration, the technique is getting old. In "The Dilemma", Ronny is always talking, riffing about this and that as he tries to get to the subject. Everytime he speaks, he begins with something tangentially related, offering a little joke about it. Then he comes at it for another direction. Then a third. A fourth. He just talks all the time. It quickly resembles a bad stand-up routine delivered by a comic with no skill trying out his new material. Vaughn almost seems to be ad-libbing. But if that were the case, the dialogue would seem fresher, more interesting.
Nick (James) is stressed out, feeling the pressure of all of their joint loans and the pressure of trying to develop this new engine. This is the stuff of comedy gold and about as funny as you might expect. Yeah. No.
Connelly's character is almost inconsequential. Ronny's longtime partner, they seem very much in love and enjoy each other's company. There is some talk about Ronny finally proposing to Beth, but this story is clearly unimportant to the filmmakers and every time we return to it, it only seems tacked on and slows down the story unnecessarily.
Winona Ryder has been appearing in more films, apparently paving the way for her comeback. Her choices are, at most, interesting. She was in "Black Swan" and her performance as the aging ballerina pushed to the sidelines is the most excessive and does the most scenery chewing. That's saying a lot for a film like "Black Swan". In "The Dilemma", she plays a woman who cheats on her lovable, doughy, funny husband. Actually, only one of these adjectives provides a correct description of Nick. He is doughy. He's too stressed out to be very funny or very likable. She cheats on her doughy husband with Channing Tatum. Hell. Who wouldn't?
Queen Latifah makes a few appearances. The filmmakers don't know what to do with her because on (at least) two separate occasions, she starts talking about her "lady wood". I'm sure the filmmakers titter whenever someone says "penis" as well.
"The Dilemma" is a horrible excuse of a comedy. It is a big, big disappointment from Ron Howard. And I am now tired of thinking and writing about this piece of crap.