Thursday, January 13, 2011
Review: "The Dilemma"
"You're bouncing around. You do that a lot."
This line, delivered in the opening moments of "The Dilemma," is used to describe Vince Vaughn's character -- which is pretty much the same as every other Vince Vaughn character.
Vaughn's become a bankable star employing the same charming motormouth routine over and over. His signature move is to get rolling on a verbal treadmill from which he cannot easily climb off. We've seen it so many times ("Couples Retreat," "Wedding Crashers") that we've come to understand that what he says isn't important -- it's the feat itself, keeping the words coming faster and faster as he bounces around from one thought to the next.
The standout example of this in "The Dilemma" is when his character, Ronny, is giving a toast at his girlfriend Beth's (Jennifer Connelly) parents' 40th wedding anniversary. Ronny has recently learned that his best friend Nick's (Kevin James) wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) has been playing around on him.
He tries to use the toast to talk about the importance of honesty in marriage, as a way of shaming Geneva into confessing her affair to Nick so Ronny won't have to spill the beans himself. But he gets off on a tangent about temptation, imagining scenarios of Beth's mother dallying with the pool boy, and it's all downhill from there -- zigging and zagging all the way.
"The Dilemma" bounces around a lot, too. The movie can't quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.
Ostensibly it's a comedy about Ronny's predicament -- whether to tell the man he loves like a brother about his wife's infidelity. The movie simply forgets to be funny for long stretches, as in one sequence where Ronny prays to God for guidance. "I know I'm supposed to give you things, but I'm scared to give you this," he tells the Almighty.
The biggest thing that's missing from the story (screenplay by Allan Loeb) is a sense of how important these relationships really are. Ronny's supposed to cherish his friendship with Nick so much that the prospect of telling him about Geneva tears him up inside. But we never see them doing much more than normal buddy-buddy stuff.
Ronny's relationship with Beth is off-kilter, too. He's a 40-year-old commitment-phobe, and can't bring himself to ask her to marry him. But what she gets out of this pairing is rather murky.
Geneva doesn't make a lick of sense, either. For awhile it's suggested she might actually be nutso, as demonstrated in a scene where Ronny confronts her and she cows him by threatening to claim he's made advances toward her.
Even Ronny and Nick's business partnership is goofy. Nick is supposed to be a brilliant engineer, but their dream is rather mundane: To make electric vehicles that look and sound like muscle cars. So basically they're just installing speakers under the hood to simulate the rumble of a gasoline engine.
(The movie has caused some controversy for a scene where they're pitching some General Motors executives, and Ronny calls electric cars "gay." I'll decline to enter the fray other than saying I think "South Park" already covered this topic sufficiently.)
Queen Latifah pops up as Susan, the liaison between the car company and our boys, who has a tendency to talk in inappropriate, hyper-sexualized terms. The joke is supposed to be that usually it's the guys in movies like this who speak that way. But she just comes across as another unexplained weird quirk of the movie.
The strangest thing about "The Dilemma" is that it was directed by Ron Howard, and has to be the most un-Ron-Howard-like film he's ever made.
The depressing part is not that it's not very good, or that a guy who's mostly done serious Oscar-bait movies has returned to his comedy roots. It's that this movie could have been directed by anyone.
1.5 stars out of four