Director Ron Howards stated purpose in making THE DILEMMA was to make a comedy after taking a hiatus from the genre. He has yet to achieve his goal. There are more laughs in SCHINDLERS LIST. Rather than creating a smart comedy of manners and morals involving adultery coming between best friends, Howard has instead taken for his inspiration the introspective films of Ingmar Bergman, the ones that involve unflinching introspection in stark, unforgiving landscapes. Those films get to essential human truths by way of painful catharsis. THE DILEMMA is just painful.
The adultery is Genevas (Wynona Ryder), wife of Nick (Kevin James) who is espied making out with hunky Zip (Channing Tatum) by Nicks business partner and best friend, Ronny (Vince Vaughn). The rest of the film is Ronny wrestling with whether or not to tell Nick what he saw. Its complicated. He doesnt want to hurt Nick, a sensitive guy who tends to hyperventilate. Theres also the fact that Nick, an engineering genius, is in the final stages of perfecting a noisy electric engine that Chrysler, for reasons that dont bear going into, might want to buy, thereby assuring Nick and Ronny a financial bonanza. Plus, theres the lovely Beth (Jennifer Connelly), the woman Ronny adores enough to finally want to marry and settle down. With his best friends marriage crumbling, taking that plunge seems harder than ever.
Vaughn behaves like a maniac throughout, garnering a slew of facial wounds and contusions in a fruitless quest for a guffaw or even a titter. Ronnys toast celebrating the 40th anniversary of Beths parents isnt just uncomfortable for the party-goers, as intended, its uncomfortable for the audience in the theater as well. Cringe inducing, in fact. James is low-key and mopey. Ryder looks crazed in a high-strung serial killer way, and Connelly is there for window dressing, exposition, and to have a character order up the intervention when everyone thinks that Ronnys gambling addiction has returned. Tatums part could have been played by a beefy male blow-up doll, so little is he allowed to do as the hunky dunderhead of the piece. For some reason, Queen Latifah is involved, playing an automotive consultant who can talk trash like the big boys while adding pretty much nothing to the film, not even a comic relief from all the deadly earnest dithering.
While there is nothing funny going on here, despite the palpable conviction of the filmmakers that Vaughn dancing, eating cereal in close-up, and playing ping-pong is amusing, there is also nothing dramatic happening either. All involved keep things in limbo, equally eschewing both genres and leaving the audience nothing to appreciate beyond the magnificence of Ryders eyelashes and the way Howard find jobs for his extended family in his films. The audience might also notice that Ronny finds himself sitting in front of two ads for the same lingerie shop and ponder if this is a product placement on a par with the ones for a camera, a classic car, and a hockey team.
THE DILEMMA fails on many levels, in many ways, and with thundering dullness. Its a talk-fest with nothing to say, and said very badly.