The Dilemma – Review


Disjointed comedy may be Ron Howard’s worst.

sitcom (ˈsɪtˌkɒm) — n an informal term for situation comedy
kitsch (kɪtʃ) — n a. tawdry, vulgarized, or pretentious art, literature, etc, usually with popular or sentimental appeal

“Sitcom kitsch” is the best way to describe The Dilemma. The comedy follows the beat of a TV comedy that’s too pretentious for its own good. This may work well for television but The Dilemma isn’t a mid-season replacement. It’s a new film by Ron Howard.

Ritchie Cunningham directed this – really? Yes, Ron Howard, it would appear, wanted to take another stab at comedy, a genre he hasn’t touched in more than a decade (1999’s Edtv was his last comedy venture). The director has a strong resume – no question – but when you see one of his features opening in January or in August be skeptical. Sort of like examining a milk container and seeing that it is four days past its expiration date. Do you dare take a drink?

With the combined talents of Vince Vaughn and Kevin James one could assume that The Dilemma would attract the same legion of fans that made them mid-level stars to begin with. But Howard’s contribution to the “bromance” sub-genre has little going for it in way of comedy. The jokes fall flat, and any drama generated by the four main characters is so uneven that audiences are given little reason to care.

But blame shouldn’t be placed squarely on him. He’s just the easiest scapegoat, having the biggest name associated with the movie. The principal culprit is the script supplied by Allan Loeb, a writer who specializes in the sort of high-concept dreck that executives seem to fall for time and time again. And they all seem to follow a similar pattern with characters and their unwillingness to admit something that they’ve seen or done. Loeb made his MO known in The Switch with Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston and more recently in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

Ronny Valentine (Vaughn) and Nick Brannen (James) are best friends who run a business that specializes in developing eco-friendly engines for high-performance cars. Nick is married to Geneva (Winona Ryder) while Ronny is still pondering if and how he proposes to his girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly). The opening scene with all four involves a dinner conversation where they discuss how long it takes to get to really know somebody. Could it be that these four don’t know each other as well as they thought they did? You betcha. But who? Guess we’ll have to wait and find out.

The wait is shorter than trying to be seated at Applebee’s on a Tuesday night, but if you have any of idea of what The Dilemma is about prior to purchasing a ticket, then you know that Ronny finds out Geneva is cheating with Zip (Channing Tatum). Though it isn’t explored, I think Zip will be crushed to find out she isn’t the sugar momma he expected, since Geneva doesn’t appear to have gainful employment.

Ronny wants to tell Nick about the affair, but at the same time Nick is trying to make the perfect environmental engine to sell to Dodge (Queen Latifah is their supervisor on the project) and the deadline is tight. Rather than sweep it under the rug until the engine is finished Ronny instead tries to threaten Geneva into coming clean but she has a secret of her own about Ronny.

In this game of he said-she said, the middle act, which runs much too long, has Ronny in one wackier situation after another while trying to expose the affair. When he isn’t playing amateur PI, trying to dig up dirt on Geneva and Zip, he’s trying to salvage things with Beth who has her own lingering trust issues that stem from one of Ronny’s addictions.

The trust issues could be a film all unto itself, but here it’s just a minor subplot that only exists to be a wrinkle between Beth and Ronny. If anything all it does is make The Dilemma longer than it needs to be. The comedy should be 100 minutes tops, but adds another fifteen minutes of filler that only disrupts the flow, as if switching from slapstick and melodrama wasn’t enough to jar viewers.

The Dilemma is an embarrassment. Queen Latifah is resigned to saying phrases like “lady wood” to illicit laughter. Not for a second did I buy The King of Queens as an engine builder. Jennifer Connelly comes and goes and is barely present. I half expected Winona Ryder to give Vaughn a Drano cocktail to make it end, but unfortunately that didn’t come to fruition either.

If this was Ron Howard taking things easy before gearing up for Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, he should have just given it to Andy Fickman or Shawn Levy to direct and counted his residual checks every time A Beautiful Mind comes on TNT. Do yourself a favor and free yourself from the dilemma of what to see in theaters and go see something else.

Director: Ron Howard
Notable Cast: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly, Channing Tatum
Writer(s): Allan Loeb

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