Ron Howard directing this kind of comedy? It just didn't seem up to his reputation or directing ability. This is the guy who directed Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon, Cinderella Man, and now he's behind a goofy-looking comedy? That was my mindset heading into 2011's The Dilemma.
Going back to their days in college, Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) have been best friends through thick and thin to the point where they're now business partners. A huge deal with Chrysler looms, transitioning electric motors into recognizable, respected muscle cars. Everything about their business hangs in the balance and both are appropriately nervous, making Ronny's discovery that much more awkward. One day Ronny sees Nick's wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), on a date with another man. What should he do? If so, how? Should he keep it secret? Uh-oh, decisions, decisions.
As I'm noticing more and more with big budget comedies, I felt duped by this one. Whether it was commercials, trailers or even the DVD cover, 'Dilemma' was billed and advertised as a goofy -- even stupid -- comedy with some over the top slapstick humor that made light of....well, cheating on your spouse. It isn't. Plain and simple, it just isn't. The attempts at humor don't always work, and some are so far overdone that they can be painful to watch. Lame attempts at laughs aside, it's darker than advertised, significantly darker.
And that's where 'Dilemma' struggles to get any footing. As talented a director as Howard is, he goofed here in a big way. Make a stupid, goofy, light-hearted comedy that has no basis in real life or go the complete opposite direction and go so impossibly dark that you will feel bad for laughing. Instead, it stays in that messy middle ground where it can't be either. The sad thing is that early on I was at least mildly enjoying the story. I was enjoying it more as a sort of personal drama -- hold the laughs -- but it takes a detour for the highly obvious. Vaughn's Ronny having an epic showdown with Zip (Channing Tatum), the "rock star" sleeping with Geneva, is bizarre in nature, so over the top that it ceases to be funny. The same goes later for Ronny's speech at an anniversary party. No basis in reality, no sense of any chance of this actually happening.
Watching the story degenerate as it did, I was encouraged by the characters and the talent involved. The characters are dark, and no one's perfect even as we learn more about their backgrounds. No one is faultless here. For the most part Vaughn is able to tone down his motor-mouth self and ends up being a pretty decent lead. James is a good counter to him, a friendship between the two men believable. Ryder seems dead-set on playing Evil Incarnate while Jennifer Connelly is given little to do as Ronny's long-time girlfriend who's gone through some rough patches with him. Queen Latifah has some funny scenes too as Ronny and Nick's Chrysler liaison with some odd sexual metaphors for their business agreement.
Because there's not much else to rip and/or praise, I can say Howard did a great job picking Chicago as his story's location. As a resident, I can say it is a city that just looks good on the big screen. Much of 'Dilemma' was filmed on-location, and the movie is boosted by it. We get some cool shots of downtown, not to mention a couple ventures to a Blackhawks game including a funny ending. Locations aside though, the movie is tolerable at best unfortunately.
The Dilemma <---trailer (2011): **/****