Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly, Queen Latifah
A Chicago businessman (Vince Vaughn) is facing a big deadline when he finds out that his longtime friend and business partner's (Kevin James) wife (Winona Ryder) is cheating on him with a hunk (Channing Tatum) twenty years her junior.
Who has time for this?
When did Ron Howard start channeling Adam Sandler?
The Dilemma isn't a Ron Howard film. It can't be. It could be an Adam Sandler film, either because it features Sandler's recent trademark of faux drama mixed in with comedy or because Howard manages to create yet another film where he casts his family, father Rance Howard and brother Clint Howard. It could be a James L. Brooks film, at least a Brooks film of late, say along the lines of his Sandler-led Spanglish. But, it's not a Ron Howard film. Is it?
Yep, it is.
Despite being produced out of Vaughn's Wild West Show Productions, it's co-star Kevin James who seems most at ease here in a film that is wildly uneven, erratic, inconsistent (Is that the same as erratic?), occasionally funny and, more frequently, surprisingly dark. One gets the sense that Universal Pictures has no idea how to market this flick, some advertising pegging it as an outright comedy and almost none of the advertising really nailing the film's weaving together of comedy amidst the rusty edges of a relationship potentially gone awry.
It's difficult to fathom what caused fairly mainstream and critically acclaimed director Ron Howard to peruse this material and think "That's my next project," unless Universal upped his paycheck in an effort to rein in Vaughn's self-destructive style of improv before it endangered the film. Howard doesn't quite succeed, of course, because several of the film's scenes have the look and feel of Vince Vaughn gone wild with fits of cinematic excess that would have sunk nearly any other endeavor not helmed by Howard.
Much like the strangely appealing coupling in this weekend's other opening film, that of Seth Rogen and Jay Chou, the odd balance between Kevin James and Vince Vaughn works wonders here with James able to ground the film and pull off a more authentic, semi-heartfelt performance while Vaughn goes a bit spastic. Both performers are outshined by supporting player Winona Ryder, who plays James's philandering wife. Amidst all this chaos, Ryder seems to be acting like she's back in a Scorsese film and finding the emotional core in the equivalent of an cinematic labyrinth.
Ron Howard has tackled comedy before, of course, but it's been of the kinder, gentler variety such as in Cocoon and Splash rather than dealing with such serious topics as friendship, infidelity, relationships, etc. This type of film is most definitely not beyond Howard's grasp, though he doesn't quite nail the necessary tone in The Dilemma, a film that never quite achieves solid footing as a comedy, a drama or anything else for that matter.
Still, this is Ron Howard directing and at his worst Howard is a better director than the vast majority of schlubs working in Hollywood these days. While one can see hints of the brilliant dark comedy this film could have been, there are times the film lives up to its potential. Other times, it seems as if Howard can't quite put his finger on the film's comic inner-workings and instead forces broad humor where more subtlety would have played much better.
Allan Loeb, who also wrote the recent disappointment Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, fills the screen with far too much unnecessary dialogue that really does nothing other than widen the gaps between genuinely funny scenes. At 118 minutes, the film could have benefited from a good 20-25 minute trip that would have aided the film's pacing and made those expository scenes much more tolerable.
By no means a disaster, it's still hard to not consider The Dilemma a disappointment given the comic talent involved and the director at the helm. While 2011 will undoubtedly bring us far worse, here's hoping that Howard's next outing gives us much better.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic