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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Dilemma

"Seriously? You bagged Winona Ryder?"

Ironically enough, The Dilemma has a few problems of its own. It’s interesting to see Ron Howard take another stab at comedy after laying Arrested Development to rest, but it doesn’t gel the way it should have. Many comedies make their name by taking a moral question and either grounding it in darkly funny reality or making it so absurd that it becomes impossible to question. In fact, some directors have made a career out of doing just that. Mike Binder, Woody Allen, Judd Apatow, the list continues. Where Ron Howard finds trouble here, to be fair, is the script. It’s penned by Allan Loeb, who spewed out Wall Street:Money Never Sleeps and The Switch (that movie about Jennifer Aniston, a turkey baster, and an awkward conversation waiting to happen). The Dilemma is two movies at once - a dark comedy about a man who finds out his best friend’s wife is cheating on him, and a relationship drama about the same thing. The real dilemma is that it can’t find that comfortable middle ground. Same problem that Wall Street 2 had, same problem The Switch had. Must be a Loeb thing.

More after the cut--

Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) are best friends; they have been since college. They’re married to two women too hot for them, Beth and Geneva (Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder). Ronny and Nick have impressive jobs - they build electric engines for classic sports cars. And on the surface, they have impressive relationships. Ronny and Beth are just waiting for the right time to get married, and Nick and Geneva have written the book on how to deal. The problem is, that Geneva probably just sponsored the book; she’s cheating on Nick with a beefy twenty-something named Zip (Channing Tatum). Ronny discovers them on an afternoon out, hence the titular dilemma - what does he do? How do you tell your friend that their wife is running around on them? More importantly, how does Kevin James get Winona Ryder?

The Dilemma is a film that doesn’t really know what to do with itself. It’s engaging, thought out, and emotional when it needs to be. To be fair, the only time the film doesn’t click is when it tries to do all those things at the same time. Which, unfortunately, is through most of the last half of the movie. Each character has their own secret to divulge, and those come at forced times that try to play themselves off as organic. And each secret feels like it could carry its own story arch, but isn’t ever given the chance to. Potential, without exploration. A key scene early on with Ryder and Vaughn should have been a shocking moment, but it feels more like a groaner of a plot line. Again, I blame Allan Loeb.

The performances in the film are colorful and sincere. Vince Vaughn has proven his dramatic worth before in films like Return to Paradise. Kevin James is the real treat here, as he hasn’t ever been given a chance to let loose and be an emotional character, but he handles his dramatic scenes well. Channing Tatum steals his scenes left and right from Vaughn and James. His overly sensitive, would be hard-ass is a comic gem in a film that doesn’t know if it’s a comic gem or not. Stealing the entire film, however, are the women - Jennifer Connelly imbues her loving girlfriend character with sturdy faith in her man, and a try-hard sensibility of making the relationship work. Queen Latifah has a cameo-esque sized supporting role that generally serves no purpose to the film, expect to give her a chance to shout out “Lady wood” and be one of the guys with Ronny and Nick. I have to say, though, it’s a blessing to have Winona Ryder back on the big screen in Hollywood productions, next to the big names she belongs next to. Her performance is wicked and sharp, two-faced as they make ‘em, and a hell of a lot of fun. In a hellish movie month like January, she’s makes the movie worth it in the long run.

It feels like a summer movie, despite its early release. Big rock soundtrack over lush Chicago landscapes in wide establishing shots, quick editing, and lots of slapstick humor. There’s a fight between Zip and Ronny that goes for gut-busting laughs and extreme violence, and while it might not fit in the picture as a whole, it’s undeniably funny. That seems to be the malady of the film as a whole - a lot of it doesn’t fit together, but when dissected, everything holds up on its own, mainly due to the committed and nonchalant performances from the cast. Vaughn, Ryder, Tatum, Connelly... each have proven time and time again that they can handle a starring role in a major film. I’m glad that Kevin James was up to the task, and not just the fat friend he usually gets side lined into play (recall his poor Chris Farley stand-in for Grown Ups). And the good thing about a Ron Howard movie - endlessly re-watchable, no matter the tone it gives off. Probably because they’re so easy to look at. He’s a slick director, if not a bit misguided at times.