Monday, January 17, 2011

Movie Review: The Dilemma

The Dilemma **
Directed by:
Ron Howard.
Written by: Allan Loeb.
Starring: Vince Vaughn (Ronny Valentine), Kevin James (Nick Brannen), Jennifer Connelly (Beth), Winona Ryder (Geneva), Channing Tatum (Zip), Queen Latifah (Susan Warner), Amy Morton (Diane Popovich), Chelcie Ross (Thomas Fern), Eduardo N. Martinez (Felix).

Watching The Dilemma, I was reminded of Roger Ebert’s rule about the “Idiot Plot”, which is a movie that would be over in five minutes if all the characters in the movie were not idiots. In this case, there really is one idiot in the movie - unfortunately it is the main character played by Vince Vaughn on whose actions the entire movie hinges. Had the man did what any reasonable person would have in his situation, the film wouldn’t exist - but I guess that’s why he has to act the way he does.

Ronny (Vaughn) has been best friends with Nick (Kevin James) since college - and has always admired the relationship Nick has with his wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder). Now Ronny and Nick on are the verge of the biggest deal of their professional lives, and Nick needs to concentrate wholly on delivering the goods. And Ronny has finally gotten his life together to the point where he thinking of asking his longtime girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly) to marry him. But things go to hell in an instant when Ronny spots Geneva with another man - the younger, appropriately named Zip (Channing Tatum). He has no idea how to handle the situation, and does pretty much everything wrong that he possibly could - turning pretty much everyone against him

Vaughn is one of those actors who pretty much plays the same character in every film - the fast talking, charming man who simply refuses to grow up. Vaughn can deliver one of those torrid comic rants like almost no one else in movies right now - and he delivers a bunch of them in this film. In fact, Vaughn pretty much nothing else in this film except those rants. It has to be hard on the rest of the cast, who for the majority of the movie simply has to sit back and listen to him rant and rave. Even Kevin James, who is usually going so wildly over the top in each and every one of his scenes that you cannot help but watch him. Vaughn is fine, I suppose, but as he has proven time and again, he is only as good as the material he is given. In films like Wedding Crashers, Made and Swingers he can be hilarious. In films like Fred Claus and Four Christmases, he can be almost painful. The Dilemma is somewhere in between those two. His supporting cast is wasted. Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder are both great actresses, but are given little to nothing to do. Better is Channing Tatum, who is doing something different from his normal stoic, strong jawed self here.

Did I mention the film was directed by Ron Howard? It surprises me when I saw the preview that Howard would direct something like this, and surprises me even more now that I have seen the film. Howard may not be my favorite filmmaker working, but there has for the most part been a quality to his work that I admire. Far and away his best film this decade was the one that no one saw - the dark Western The Missing. But with the two Robert Langdon adaptations and now this film, I wonder what has happened to Howard’s ambition. Perhaps after making more physically demanding films, like The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, he wanted to relax a little bit and go back to his roots and make a comedy. But couldn’t he have found a better screenplay to work with? It is a by the numbers, formulaic movie that I would have thought that a director with Howard’s influence would have picked something better.

It’s not that The Dilemma is such a horrible movie. It really isn’t. There are isolated moments that work well. But I keep coming back to the fact that Ronny acts like pretty much no one in the real world would in faced with this situation. A decision has to be made, and yet at every turn, Ronny makes one horrible decision after another - and one decision that he had to have known would not work out, because they make no sense. Yes, I know it’s a comedy, and as such needs to put it characters in somewhat exaggerated, comic situations. Yet, there has to be some sense of reality to the movie for it to work at all. And The Dilemma doesn’t have that.

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