If you’ve ever prided yourself on your ability to exercise self control and not yell at movie screen to help solve a character’s dilemma, kindly skip The Dilemma— even the most stoic moviegoer will have a hard time not jumping up and down in frustration just ten minutes into the movie.
The central idea is a pretty simple one: Should you tell your best friend if you find out that their spouse is cheating? Well, inherent in the fact that the person is your best friend, the answer is pretty obviously ‘yes’. Of course in The Dilemma, we’re meant to understand that there are extenuating circumstances that muddle the question, but the ‘circumstances’ in this case are either (a) so flimsy or (b) so out of left field that they don’t even begin to hold water.
Ronny Valentine (Vince Vaughn) and his buddy Nick Brannen (Kevin James) run a small company that makes car engines. They have a great idea to make electric cars with a muscle car sound and body. They pitch the idea to Chrysler. The Chrysler folk love it, including Queen Latifah, who likes their pitch so much she gushes that she wants to have sex with Ronny and Nick’s words. What does all this have to do with the dilemma? Not much. In fact, it actually becomes little more than an annoying distraction; Ronny and Nick could have just-as-easily been marketing executives… or professional golfers… or firemen.
As for the central story– Ronny has a girlfriend named Beth (Jennifer Connelly). Nick has a wife named Geneva (Winona Ryder). Nick and Geneva keep pressuring Ronny to pop the question, but he can never find the right time. When he caves a little and starts scouting ‘perfect proposal’ locations, he notices Geneva lockin’ lips with a tattooed young buck (Channing Tatum). Hence, the dilemma.
Instead of saving us another 100 minutes of movie-watching, though, Ronny decides that he can’t talk to Nick about what he saw, because Nick, you see, is a bit high-strung. If Ronny drops this bomb on Nick, their deal with Chrysler may fall through, because Nick will fall apart and not be able to work (or sink the winning putt… or put out that apartment fire.)
And then, lest you thought this was a comedy just because Vaughn and James’ names are on the poster, things get really dark really quickly. Blackmail, home invasion, stalking, and more than a couple good ol’ fashioned butt-kickings dominate the better part of the next hour. Not to mention a particularly cringe-worthy scene where Ronny makes an absolute ass of himself at a dinner party. The funny moments become fewer and far between-er, and The Dilemma almost becomes a black comedy… but for the lack of comedy.
The direction by Ron Howard is perfectly fine (though you may question why he would even take this project on); it doesn’t have the gravitas of his A Beautiful Mind, and it doesn’t have the hilarity of his early (funny) hit Splash… but in a way, it’s trying to be both. The real culprit here is screenwriter Allan Loeb (The Switch, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps). His script is so all-over-the-place that it doesn’t do any one thing particularly well, and therefore fails at everything. Just when you think you have a fun, buddy comedy, it becomes a dark, adultery drama. But then it shifts to an edge-of-your-seat, suspense thriller before bouncing on over to tear-jerky, heartfelt romance.
And to think, it all could have been avoided by a simple conversation between friends.