Vince Vaughn as Ronny Valentine
Kevin James as Nick Brannen
Jennifer Connelly as Beth
Winona Ryder as Geneva
Channing Tatum as Zip
Queen Latifah as Susan Warner
Amy Morton as Diane Popovich
Chelcie Ross as Thomas Fern
Eduardo N. Martinez as Felix
Rance Howard as Burt
Clint Howard as Herbert Trimpy
What is the responsibility of the best friend to his mate? Is it to give the unvarnished truth, to tell it like is so your buddy will have the best information possible to live his life by (and risk coming off as a tremendous *sshole)? Or should you just butt out of personal affairs, leave his friend to live his life and find out the truth in his own way and time. Where’s the line?
That’s the dilemma of “The Dilemma” after Ronny (Vince Vaughn) sees his best friend’s wife (Winona Ryder) fooling around with a boy toy (Channing Tatum) half her age. It doesn’t help matters any that Nick (Kevin James) and Ronny are in the middle of the biggest deal of their lives, trying to sell General Motors on electric muscle cars that sound and feel like real muscle cars.
It’s good fodder for character-based-comedy, but comedy is tricky alchemy it requires just the right mixture of actor, writer, director to make it work and even a good concept can quickly be left to waste if any part of it doesn’t work.
It’s been a while since Ron Howard (“The Da Vinci Code”) made a comedy, its one of the genres he’s spottiest on and he’s been hit and miss when he does come to it. But his firm grasp of character rather than situation as the basis for comedy is a good start and better than a lot of movies get.
And after its situation is spelled out, “The Dilemma” turns into a much more character-oriented comedy as Ronny wrestles with whether he wants to hurt his best friend as badly as he knows the truth will, plus the mercenary side of the equation. And it works as that sort of film more often than not.
On the other hand, it is extremely limited character-oriented comedy in that it might have been better titled “Ronny’s dilemma.” The film is so firmly rooted in his point of view that everything in it (even though the main crisis is ultimately about Nick and his marriage) is about Ronny and how the anguish of knowing something he doesn’t want to know affects him, and not much of anyone else (except for their scenes with Vaughn). This particularly effects Kevin James, who doesn’t get near enough screen time and hardly any comedy and he’s not quite up to the dramatic material.
Which means you get a lot of Vince Vaughn, which isn’t bad when he actually has to stop and reflect on how all his situation makes him feel. Unlike James, Vaughn is perfectly comfortable with drama and portrays Ronny’s anguish and confusion effectively. On the other hand, it also means you get a lot of Vaughn mugging, which isn’t so good. He’s been doing that shtick for so long it just sounds like auto pilot whenever he goes into one of his long winded lies, despite all the visual help director Howard gives him. It also makes Ronny’s long suffering girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) come across as complete idiot early in the film for believing anything he says. Howard and screenwriter Allan Loeb (“The Switch”) try their best to deal with that by the end but it feels perfunctory because of how little screen time any non-Ronny character gets and how little they get to do when they are on screen.
Which is doubly frustrating considering how well handled the boy-toy in question, Zip, is. He doesn’t really show up until the second half and only has three real scenes but when he does he quickly steals the film from everyone, which is even more impressive when you consider he’s played by Channing I-Was-Carved-From-Wood Tatum. If nothing else, Howard proves his real chops as a director and earns every Best Director award he’s ever been nominated for just for the seemingly impossible feat of getting a good performance out of Channing Tatum.
It helps that Zip is the kind of over the top character who is easy to make fun, a rich ne’er do well who gets high on oxycontin and crashes in on someone’s gambling addiction intervention pretending to be a bookie.
The end result is a mixed bag that works more often than doesn’t but never quite lives up its promise. Many of the individual situations are quite funny and Vaughn, when he’s allowed to be human, is honestly affecting. On the other hand there is a tremendous amount of missed potential from the talented cast who spend most of their time reacting to Ronny’s antics and not doing much else. If it weren’t for–and I can’t believe I’m writing this–Channing Tatum, there would be more reasons to miss it than not. Still, if you’re in the mood for some Vince Vaughn fast talking that’s better than average, “The Dilemma” will work for you.