By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
A man discovers that his best friend’s wife is having an affair: what to do. That’s the dilemma facing the protagonist of this to-tell-or-not-to-tell comedy.
As opposed to the dilemma facing the to-see-or-not-to-see moviegoer, which is of a different sort. Because the director of The Dilemma is surehanded veteran Ron Howard, expectations can run high. But, like a running back having a bad day on the football field, Howard fumbles this one.
Vince Vaughn, also an executive producer, stars as Ronny Valentine, a Chicago bachelor trying to decide whether and how to propose to his live-in girlfriend, Beth, played by Jennifer Connelly. Ronny runs an auto design firm with his happily married buddy, Nick Backman, played by Kevin James.
When Ronny accidentally sees Nick’s wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), in the arms of another man (a tattooed hunk named Zip, played by Channing Tatum), he must decide whether to tell him or not. And because they’re in the middle of an innovative project that has gotten them a potentially lucrative contract with General Motors, he doesn’t want anything to jeopardize their chances for a big payday.
So it’s not exactly Valentine’s day, is it?
And then things get even dicier when Ronny confronts Geneva with the threat of revealing the truth, and she tells him that not only will she deny it but will tell her husband that Ronny has made overtures to her.
This is the first comedy, since 2000’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, from veteran director Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon, The Da Vinci Code, Parenthood, Cinderella Man), who also produced.
For a director with an Oscar on his mantel (A Beautiful Mind), Howard has apparently given his usually reliable moviemaking instincts some time off. He allows the tone to switch from light to dark, from comedy to psychodrama, from slapstick to melodrama, as if he can’t make up his mind about what kind of movie he’s making.
The slow-as-molasses-in-January build he employs in the film’s early reels makes us impatient for the narrative to just get on with it. And although it takes the long way around at every opportunity, it eventually does earn its title (abandoned working titles included Cheaters and What You Don’t Know), but it’s to no avail because the plot falls apart in the late going anyway.
Allan Loeb’s screenplay sounds and feels like a first draft that was never reevaluated, revisited, or revised. And truly aggressive rewriting isn’t just called for, it’s yelled for.
The more farcical the situation becomes for harried protagonist Ronny, the less funny the movie becomes. By Act III, we have to remind ourselves that this is indeed a comedy.
Vaughn is his usual watchable self, holding the screen even when the screenplay is treading water. And his skilled and obvious improvising garners the occasional laugh. But he has to work much too hard: you can tell he’s trying to entertain us in spite of the script rather than through it.
Which leaves us on the horns of 2 stars out of 4 for The Dilemma. It takes us a while to make up our minds about this dramedy — if only the movie itself had.