The Dilemma *
While it could hardly be said that he is one of the greatest directors working in Hollywood today, Ron Howard has nonetheless developed a reputation for directing quality movies, only occasionally slipping up with a dud and then one that still has its fair share of redeeming qualities.
Comedy actor Vince Vaughn’s reputation, meanwhile, is somewhat less impressive, films from the peak of his career such as Dodgeball and Wedding Crashers proving to be laugh riots but more recent efforts like The Break-Up and Couples Retreat not proving very successful in the laughs department. Kevin James, too, has a somewhat mixed track record, having starred in really good comedy films such as Hitch, okay ones such as Grown Ups and not very good ones like I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. Despite each of these guys having some blotches on their resumes, however, their names still bring a certain level of credibility with them. Certainly, on paper, the combination of all three sounds like a recipe for success. So, by all means, The Dilemma, the first collaboration of these three and Howard’s first comedy film since he directed The Grinch, should be a really good film. But somewhere something went very wrong…
Since college, confirmed bachelor Ronny Valentine (Vince Vaughn) and happily married Nick Brannen (Kevin James) have been through thick and thin. Now they’re trying to get their auto design firm off the ground with a big project under Susan Warner (Queen Latifah), a high up representative at a major car company. With Ronny’s girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly), and Nick’s wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), by their sides, the pair is unbeatable. It’s all shaping up nicely until Ronny makes a discovery that threatens to ruin everything – he spies Nick’s wife with another man, a total doofus named Zip (Channing Tatum). With Nick already completely stressed out over their work project, Ronny finds himself faced with a terrible dilemma: tell Nick or keep it to himself. Either way, he risks losing everything – including his best friend. First he needs to know the truth. His amateur investigation begins to descend into comic chaos as he tries to do the right thing.
Coming out of The Dilemma it really is hard to believe that what you’ve seen actually is a film directed by Ron Howard. All the normal signs of quality that you would expect to find in one of his films are completely absent and this film actually manages to establish itself as a new low for the director. The reason why this is the case is simple – the film just isn’t funny. As easy as it is blame Howard for this, however, the blame really belongs to screenwriter Allan Loeb whose screenplay is simply abysmal. Lacking any jokes that actually raise any laughs, the script is so completely devoid of humour as to make it that the film barely even qualifies as a comedy. Even the worst comedies usually manage to raise a few laughs but this film completely failed to make this critic laugh even once and to make matters worse there isn’t even much redemption to be found in other key areas. With an extremely flimsy premise to work with – there really isn’t a dilemma, Ronny should have told Nick – Loeb crafts a minimal plot that struggles to make an engaging or entertaining story out of the extremely limited concept, even with things getting quite complicated for the characters – something that is not reflected in Loeb’s writing – and, while there are clearly attempts to make us emphasise more with the characters by showing us that they all have their baggage – Geneva is a blatant cheat, Ronny comes off almost stalker-ish at times and even Nick isn’t as faithful in his marriage as he first appears to be, with only Beth coming off clean, her one negative trait being a secret that she keeps from Ronny – this really just makes the characters less likable and I personally found myself losing sympathy for all but Beth before the film had even reached the halfway point. Every now and then a moment of tenderness raises the game slightly but sadly these occasional moments are not enough to salvage the overall story. The dialogue also proves very poor and this, combined with the poorly constructed characters, means the cast members have nothing to work with. Vince Vaughn is just Vince Vaughn and here he doesn’t even have any decent material to work with and Kevin James really doesn’t fare much better. Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder perform somewhat better but still find themselves hindered by the weak material, although, at the very least, they do have pretty chemistry with the leading men. The real shock here is that the best thing about the film actually turns out to be Channing Tatum. Tatum, an “actor” who I have often criticised for his lack of acting ability in the past is the one thing in the film that even comes close to being funny. As the overly sensitive and extremely crazy Zip, Tatum finally seems to have found a role that he can play without looking like an emotionless zombie the whole time. This isn’t to say that he is great, of course, but he certainly does prove amusing and far more so than either Vaughn or James. So, The Dilemma is a bad film full stop. A comedy is supposed to be funny but this isn’t and this film has already established itself as a frontrunner for worst comedy of 2011. When deciding whether or not to see this film, you should have no dilemma – DON’T.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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