There’s no dilemma about how to appraise Ron Howard’s latest: it’s a smug, irritating, boring disaster on every level. Talky beyond belief, not funny, not dramatic and with a bafflingly miscast Vince Vaughn at the centre, it’s hard to think of a recent movie more misguided than The Dilemma.
The trailer would have you believe it’s an effervescent comedy with edge. Nothing could be further from the truth. To briefly recap, Vaughn plays a self-satisfied so and so called Ronny who appears to do something with cars, although we never actually see him do any work, just a bit of posturing when trying to clinch a deal with General Motors. Very rarely would you want Jeremy Clarkson to march on-screen and liven things up but that’s certainly the case here.
However, when Vaughn catches Geneva (Winona Ryder), the wife of his best friend and business partner Nick (Kevin James) cheating on him with another man (Channing Tatum), he’s put into, yes, a dilemma. Should he tell Nick and risk compromising their deal with GM? Or should he keep it under lock and key and threaten to become complicit in the shenanigans?
At this stage, the movie could have gone down the subversive path and made the audience sympathise with Ryder’s extra-marital plight, whilst having the token best friend, one who’s supposed to be a beacon of decency, behave in a loathsome, creepy and threatening manner. Well, Vaughn does exactly that - but somehow we’re supposed to take a vested interest in him, even when he’s climbing up trees with a camera attempting to catch her in the act. The film attempts to have its cake and eat it too, but it doesn’t work.
So, at the risk of sounding redundant, let’s list the problems. Firstly, it’s an incredibly talky film; none of the characters ever shut up, and when Vince Vaughn stands up to do a toast at his girlfriend’s (Jennifer Connelly) parent’s wedding anniversary, it’s all one can do to stop screaming. Not that there’s anything wrong with a talky movie – Clerks was nothing more than two slackers bantering over 90 minutes. But if a film makes the commitment to this much dialogue, the dialogue had better be good – and in The Dilemma it simply isn’t. For a film which consists of people whinging and moaning at each other for two hours, there’s not one memorable quote.
Secondly, it’s not funny enough to be a comedy but neither is it dramatic enough for a drama. It’s flat on a humorous level and at no point does it evoke empathy or sympathy for anyone involved, not even the jilted husband played by James who complains constantly about ‘bleeding on the inside’ in a physical sense for no reason. But perhaps the biggest problem is Vaughn himself. Always effective as a deadpan foil against strong co-stars in the likes of Swingers and Dodgeball, here he’s cast adrift like Wilson the volleyball in Cast Away, utterly incapable of delivering the dramatic range director Ron Howard believes him capable of.
He’s unpleasant enough in The Dilemma – but that doesn’t seem to be the intention. Instead we’re left watching a man struggling to convey the guilt, conflict and humour needed for the character. Howard, never the boldest of directors anyway, seems equally clueless about how to direct his leading man or any of the other cast members (including Connelly doing the winsome, doe-eyed thing yet again). The Dilemma? Well, it’s far from troubling.