28 January 2011

Movie Review: The Dilemma


The Dilemma
2011, 111mins, 15
Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Allan Loeb
Cast includes: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly, Channing Tatum
UK Release Date: 21st January 2011

Seriously, when was the last time you laughed at Vince Vaughn? Probably somewhere around 2006 I’d imagine. The cherubic comic hasn’t exactly been on storming form during the last few years, his CV having become peppered with ghastly outings such as “Fred Claus” and “Couples Retreat”. Director Ron Howard hasn’t recently exhibited much of a feel for quality control either, the once celebrated filmmaker having become notably obsessed with adapting the dubious literary works of Dan Brown. Thankfully “The Dilemma” marks an immediate improvement for both, albeit praise doesn’t really get any fainter. I appreciate that with this picture Howard tries to do something a little more ambitious with the bromance genre, but sadly very little of it actually pays off.

Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) are best friends and business partners, the two heading up a small engine design company. Their firm is granted the chance to fashion an electric engine for Dodge, thus placing mechanical wizard Nick under a lot of stress. However Ronny has a very toxic problem of his own, having accidentally spied Nick’s wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) messing around with a younger man (Channing Tatum, displaying robust comic chops). Desperate to preserve Nick’s happiness and their company’s chance of success, Ronny attempts to resolve the issue himself, a decision that leaves his own life in disarray and his relationship with girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly) on knife-edge.

“The Dilemma” is remarkably light on laughs, but under Howard’s gaze that almost seems intentional. It’s interesting to watch how rarely the film lunges for comedic gratification, instead focusing on internal angst and dysfunctional relationships. The goofball and slapstick tone promised by the film’s promotional material just isn’t present, rendering “The Dilemma” something of a surprise upon viewing. Sadly the movie’s introspective elements aren’t fleshed out adequately enough to fully engage, leaving the film uncertain as to what demographic it’s looking to satisfy. In truth “The Dilemma” barely functions as either comedy or drama, only small snippets of the picture hitting the homeruns its creators were aiming for.

Vaughn is the best he’s been in ages, the performer actually remembering to be funny on occasion. Most of the picture’s more amusing moments stem from Vaughn’s improvisational touch or high octane energy, the sleepy jester of “Couples Retreat” is thankfully nowhere to be seen. Vaughn also acquits himself modestly during the movie’s more dramatic moments, convincing as a man strangled by an undesirable truth. Less impressive is Kevin James, a chap who is quickly turning into one of Hollywood’s dullest leading men. The portly comedian stumbles around the picture failing to solicit giggles or sympathy, reusing the same beats he’s deployed in most of his big screen work. Jennifer Connelly is underused as Beth (although when given a chance she shines); leaving Winona Ryder to wrestle with the picture’s most confused entity. Whilst Ryder does perfectly fine, the screenwriters seem incapable of creating a consistent character for her to inhabit, Geneva swinging from remorseful innocent to crazy bitch much too hastily. I liked the performance, but the writing is suspect.

Howard attempts to inject a little visual fizz into proceedings, using flashbacks in an unusually artistic fashion for such a broad mainstream affair. Similarly the director’s comic timing is impeccable when it’s called upon, although that probably isn’t regularly enough. The department in which Howard fumbles is pacing, the picture running 20 minutes too long. There are facets of “The Dilemma” that could easily be cut without damaging the overall product, concepts such as Ronny’s previous gambling problem and his gratingly useless sister adding nothing to proceedings but unwanted beefiness. Due to the film’s patchiness, the finale isn’t leant much in the way of resonance, after all only a handful of the film’s more emotionally sincere sequences actually work. One involving Vaughn and Connelly having an argument in a kitchen is an indication of how sharp this product might have been with a little added stamina, but sadly “The Dilemma” is swamped by instances of cheesy reconciliation and overwrought histrionics.

The film is definitely a disappointment, although it never approaches the awfulness of some of Vaughn’s more cancerous career choices. Howard nearly twists the material into something resembling a rewarding film, but falls short at a few crucial junctures. It’s a melodramatic and only periodically witty ride.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011


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