Movie Review: The Dilemma (2011)

Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly, Vince Vaughn and Kevin James in The Dilemma
Photo: Universal Pictures

There are different levels of terrible. Ron Howard’s The Dilemma qualifies for one of those levels, but which one will depend on just how many kicks it will take for you to bounce back to coherency once this travesty is over.

The Dilemma is not terrible in that it’s offensive. That is, unless you count endless streams of “I’m too busy to hear you tell me the problem” moments to extend a film’s running time offensive. Or if you tend to get upset at a film that poses a problem that could be resolved in a matter of minutes if the characters exhibited any modicum of intelligence. After all, in such instances the filmmakers are assuming you will buy into this garbage and are willing to sit through it for nearly two hours in the first place. Come to think of it, that is offensive.

Billed as a comedy but in actuality it’s more of an in-theater tragedy, The Dilemma sets out to prove that Ron Howard can do worse than The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons and that Vince Vaughn really has no other gear besides the same one we’ve seen him stuck in since 2000 signaling it’s time to get the transmission checked.

From Old School to Wedding Crashers, Vaughn had a solid three year run as audiences fell in love with his comedic quick wit, but ever since he’s only played the same character and it’s become progressively tedious. It’s impossible to distinguish his character in The Dilemma from any number of his previous roles. In this one he plays Ronny, a man that’s just learned his best friend’s wife (Winona Ryder) is cheating and he can’t seem to figure out the best way to let his friend and business partner Nick (Kevin James) in on the secret.

Of course, the “dilemma,” as the title insinuates, isn’t necessarily related to this adultery conundrum as much as it has to do with the potential deal the duo just landed to supply an electric motor that sounds and rumbles just like a ’70s muscle car. As if an iPod and a vibrator wouldn’t do the job.

Early on Ronny has an opportunity to tell Nick of his wife’s infidelity. However, the fact Nick is nursing a bleeding ulcer and stressed to the hilt over the project they’ve taken on, Ronny believes now isn’t the best time. So when is the best time? You guessed it! Once so many stupid things have happened that everyone has been misled to the point the only thing left is for the truth to finally come out. And it does…

The Dilemma is predictable at every turn, but it does so without an ounce of flair or regard for the audience’s time, money or smallest desire for entertainment. When I referenced the different levels of terrible in the opening paragraph, this film lands on a level where it merely exists and if you are unlucky enough to have bought a ticket you may feel it is your duty to sit through the duration just so you don’t believe you’ve wasted your money. If this is you, take my advice and get up and leave. The house lights at my screening came up ten minutes early almost as a sign from God (or at the very least the house projectionist) for us to run before we were all brain dead.

Sometimes bad films, at the very least, attempt to entertain. Here, I can’t figure out if it’s Allan Loeb’s (The Switch) script, Ron Howard’s direction or what exactly should be blamed, but this film goes so far as to use entire scenes — and I use the word loosely — to try and sell a punch line. These aren’t scenes, they’re asides. They’re fodder typically found on the cutting room floor or one of those not so funny gag reels found on lousy DVD releases.

One such example in The Dilemma has Vaughn’s character waking up to one of his employees staring at him. “What are you doing?” Vaughn asks. “Watching you sleep. Freaky, isn’t it?” is the response. End scene. This, ladies and gentleman, passes as a singular scene in The Dilemma and there is more where that comes from. Toss in Queen Latifah uttering the phrase “lady wood” at every turn possible and you end up with a film that doesn’t try to be funny as much as it seems to believe the audience will (and should) accept it as such. You won’t, or at least I didn’t.

I don’t believe I laughed once, outside of a possible chuckle at some of Channing Tatum’s antics as he is passably decent in a smaller role. But overall The Dilemma stinks and it would please me to no end if you decided to stay home and pretend it was never released.