Overlong and aggravating, there’s just no dilemma in Ron Howard’s The Dilemma, a rarely funny bromance that tries to make a movie out of the following concept: you see your buddy’s wife with another man; do you tell him?
Of course you tell him. And you tell him immediately; once you keep the information from him, you risk keeping it indefinitely or having to explain why you held out. There is so obviously a right thing to do in The Dilemma that it becomes an interminable experience watching the protagonist struggle with his faux moral weight. Just spit it out, and end this film.
The protagonist is Ronny Valentine (Vince Vaughn), who operates a specialty auto company with his friend Nick (Kevin James). They put electric engines in classic muscle cars, complete with authentic sound and vibration. Ronny’s pitch to the big auto manufacturer: “Electric cars are gay.” That line caused some outcry when featured in the trailer, but it fits in context of the rest of the film, which clearly defines the character as an idiot.
So Ronny sees Nick’s wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) sharing a public kiss with tattooed hunk Zip (Channing Tatum). Should he tell his best friend? No… they need to produce an engine in the next few days/weeks, this might distract him.
Instead, he confronts Geneva (this produces another, very similar bit of information that really strains our sympathy towards Ronny), and then Zip, all the while hiding his adventures from girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly), who could very well get him out of this. But no, he keeps the information from her in order to protect her, like a secret agent or something, damaging his own relationship in the process.
There are a few good bits here and there; I liked the scene where Ronny attempts to explain his rash, with flashbacks that change and become more detailed with each lie, and the exchange between Ronny and a stranger on the train, who he keeps nervously glancing past while trailing Nick: “I’m not a pervert.” “Too bad…”
But there’s not nearly enough to make up for the rest of the film, which reaches the bar of quality set by costar James’ collaborations with Adam Sandler, Grown Ups and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.
There’s barely a premise here to begin with, and then it’s padded out to nearly two hours, while straddling the line between comedy and drama and satisfying neither genre. It’s an aggressively uncomfortable, twitch-in-your-seat negative experience.
That’s downright shocking coming from director Howard, who has previously made Frost/Nixon, Cinderella Man, Apollo 13, and the Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind. He began his directing career with bright, loopy comedies like Night Watch, Splash, and Parenthood, and also produced one of the funniest shows on TV, Arrested Development. What happened here? Howard has misstepped before (EdTV, The Da Vinci Code), but this is clearly his worst film.
A (mostly) good cast is wasted. Vaughn tries his best, with a manic, motor-mouthed performance that recalls better, earlier roles, but his character is such a snide, rude, self-centered idiot that we feel nothing but contempt for him.
James barely registers as the friend, while Connelly is completely wasted as the girlfriend. Ryder and Tatum come off best; at least their characters have real issues to be concerned about. The director’s father, Rance, and his brother, Clint, turn up in small roles.