Dilemma, The (United States, 2011)

January 12, 2011
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Dilemma, The Poster

Ron Howard is unquestionably an A-list director, and his credentials are impeccable. When a filmmaker of Howard's status has a movie tossed into theaters during garbage time (January/February or August), it results in raised eyebrows and generates a certain amount of skepticism about the quality of the production. In the case of The Dilemma, Howard's contribution to the so-called "bromance" sub-genre, such skepticism is warranted. This dramatic comedy provides tepid drama and mediocre comedy stirred together into a stew so uneven in tone and texture that it's likely to cause more than a few viewers indigestion. Among Howard's infrequent misfires, this is one of the most disappointing.

Before proceeding with a catalogue of The Dilemma's faults, however, I must pause for a moment to give kudos to Vince Vaughn, whose performance successfully twists and turns with the madly vacillating tone of the film. He's outrageous when Howard wants him to be. He's calm when that's required. And, upon an occasion or two, he provides the kind of sincere, heartfelt portrayal one does not often associate with the actor, who often goes over-the-top. Kevin James is better in the humorous scenes than the serious ones, but he has nothing to be ashamed of. Jennifer Connelly doesn't have much to do but, as window dressing, she's a pleasant distraction. Winona Ryder, continuing a comeback begun in Black Swan, displays a bitchy edge.

Ronny Valentine (Vaughn) and Nick Brannen (James) have been best buddies since college, and are now business partners. Nick is married to longtime sweetheart Geneva (Ryder) while Ronny is pondering whether or not to pop the question to his girlfriend, Beth (Connelly). Ronny's faith in the institution of wedlock is shaken when he learns that Nick's marriage isn't as perfect as he believed it to be. When he catches Geneva in a romantic clinch with the handsome, vapid Zip (Channing Tatum), he is faced with a dilemma: tell Nick and risk hurting his friend's self-esteem or keep quiet and hope this is a one-time thing. Complicating matters is a business situation that has placed Nick is in a state of high anxiety over a major deadline and a loss of focus at this point could result in a meltdown. The situation becomes more convoluted when Ronny discovers that Nick is a frequent visitor to Asian "massage parlors." And, when Ronny confronts Geneva, she first promises to break it off with Zip then, after failing to keep that promise, she threatens to turn the tables on Ronny if he "outs" her.

The Dilemma downshifts from slapstick to melodrama and back so abruptly that it is at times jarring. Many films have proven there are ways for light drama and dark comedy to co-exist, but Howard has not used any of those as a template. The marriage of disparate elements in The Dilemma is awkward at best. To make matters worse, some of the comedy simply isn't funny and a large chunk of the middle act, which follows the misadventures of Ronny playing amateur private detective, feels like padding. The movie is too long by at least 20 minutes; cut that much from the running time and The Dilemma might have been better streamlined.

The movie contains at least one classic "Vaughn moment" - it comes during a toast to a couple who have been married for 40 years. Extolling the virtues of honesty, Ronny embarks upon a long, rambling monologue that turns into one of The Dilemma's few highlights. It's rude and biting and shows what the movie could have been if it had elected not to pull punches. The screenplay, credited to Allan Loeb (who also wrote the underwhelming Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps), arguably spends too much time on the nuts-and-bolts details of Ronny and Nick's deal with Chrysler Motors. Nick's design of a new engine gets more screen time than Queen Latifa, whose dialogue is, frankly, embarrassing. That her crude comments are designed to get big laughs is a testimony to what some audiences find hilarious.

One certain thing about this film is that there's no dilemma about whether or not to plunk down $10 to see it. Give it a pass and spend the money on something more deserving. This is, after all, awards season, and the sharing of multiplex halls with Oscar contenders is more rarified company than The Dilemma deserves.

Dilemma, The (United States, 2011)

Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly, Winona Ryder, Channing Tatum, Queen Latifa
Screenplay: Allan Loeb
Cinematography: Salvatore Totino
Music: Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:55
U.S. Release Date: 2011-01-14
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Content, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1