By now, I think we’ve all faced facts: Vince Vaughn’s entered the “puffy” stage of his career. Gone is the motor-mouthed, all-sharp-angles ladies’ man with the stunning amount of overconfidence who owned films like Made, Swingers, and Wedding Crashers. In his place, we’ve been given the slightly-heavier, slightly-slower, seemingly-disinterested Vaughn that’s headlined films like Four Christmases and Fred Claus (just try reading that title without shuddering). Ron Howard’s The Dilemma is certainly a part of this “puffy period”, but does it succeed despite Vaughn’s low-powered screen presence? Is The Dilemma as “Hilarious!” as the film’s cover box claims it to be? Read on and find out in our full review, after the jump.
When The Dilemma hit theaters last year, I had a million reasons not to bother with the film: it featured “puffy period” Vince Vaughn (see the intro if you missed our explanation of what a “puffy period” is), it’s directed by Ron Howard (a filmmaker who has never failed to leave me violently snoring with boredom, even in his most “adventurous” films), it features Kevin James (who might never make it up to me after staring in Paul Blart: Mall Cop), it looked tedious, obvious, and kind of unpleasant (which is also what I thought when I saw the trailers for The Break-Up). No, I wouldn’t be seeing The Dilemma in a theater, thank you. Maybe on Blu-ray, where I could eject the film as soon as it failed to entertain me, but not in a theater. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one that felt this way: on a $70m budget (?!?!?!), Ron Howard’s The Dilemma earned less than $50m here in the States (it went on to earn roughly $65m worldwide).
So, is The Dilemma what most of us expected it to be (which is to say, bad)? Mmmyeah, pretty much. It’s not the worst movie I’ve seen this year, but it’s almost precisely what I was expecting.
Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin “Blart” James) are business partners and best friends. Their trade is cars, and when we meet the pair, they’ve just landed a major potential client: Dodge (the film could almost serve as a Dodge Charger commercial, so if you’re not into product placement, be aware that The Dilemma will make your head asplode), whom they want to sell a cool-looking electric car design to. Meanwhile, outside of work, the two are both in steady relationships that are at different stages of development: Ronny’s a 40-year-old bachelor who’s been putting off proposing to his steady girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly), while Nick has been happily married– or so it seems– to Winona Ryder’s character for some time. Ronny admires this power-couple, but there’s a lot he doesn’t know about their relationship.
So, just when the two land their big account with Dodge (working with a completely-extraneous Queen Latifah; her character could have been cut down and saved the film from being an unwieldy 112m in length), Ronny discovers that Nick’s wife is cheating on him. He spies her making out with a heavily-tattooed badboy inside a botanical gardens (why a botanical gardens? Because it will allow Ronny to fall down into some poisonous plants and get a “wacky” rash on his face), and therein lies Ronny’s– wait for it– dilemma: should he tell Nick, potentially throwing off his game while the pair work their way through this new account’s order? Or should he confront Nick’s wife? Should he say anything at all? And who was that tattooed badboy, anyway?
There are plenty of problems with The Dilemma, but let’s focus on the ones that are the most crippling. For starters, Howard’s tone is all over the map during the film. I was reminded time and time again of The Break-Up, another Vaughn “comedy”. The Break-Up wanted to show us the genuine pain that comes with any relationship’s end, but it also wanted to be a rom-com. As we saw in that film, genuine pain and the trappings of the rom-com genre don’t necessarily go hand in hand. In fact, they can be wildly jarring and off-putting. I had the same problem with The Dilemma: one minute, you’ve got the lead falling into a pile of poison sumac (or some damn plant), getting a “wacky” rash and looking like Matthew Broderick in Election post-bee-sting; the next, you’ve got Vaughn confronting Ryder in a really uncomfortable, way-too-dramatic-for-its-own-good sequence that felt like it belonged in a drama or, perhaps, a thriller. This all-over-the-map tone continues throughout the film.
The second-biggest problem lies in the casting: I couldn’t help but think that this film would’ve worked a lot better with Vaughn and James’ roles switched around. Wouldn’t the overly-confident, motor-mouthed Vaughn be the better choice for the guy who has no idea his wife’s cheating on him, while the lovable, clumsy, in-over-his-head James would play the dude that has to figure out how to navigate these emotionally-traumatic waters?
If the film had presented Vaughn as… well, the opposite of what Vince Vaughn is in every scene, then it might make sense, but we see– in those stunningly boring scenes wherein James and Vaughn meet with the Dodge execs– that Vaughn is playing Vaughn: he’s quick, witty, able to talk the devil into setting himself on fire. Those scenes were my least favorite in the film, but at least they presented Vaughn in his best “mode”. But why does he become a timid little bitch whenever he’s dealing with Ryder and her infidelity? Again: it’d make much more sense to have these actors playing to their strengths in opposite roles. Perhaps Howard was going for a “Belushi/Aykroyd Switch” like the one we saw (or, in all likelihood, that you haven’t seen) in Neighbors. If so, it didn’t work.
Ryder and Connelly are good enough in their underwritten supporting roles, and the likable-if-frequently-grating (it’s a weird combination, I agree) Queen Latifah does her best with a character that– as we’ve already noted– shouldn’t be in the film in the first place, but for the most part, the film belongs to Vaughn (and, to a lesser extent, James, who’s actually in the film a little less than I’d anticipated). The one bit of casting that I really enjoyed was Channing Tatum as Zip, the tattooed badboy (there’s a free, decent band name: Zip The Tattooed Badboy). Tatum is obviously working very hard to show the audience that he can do comedy just as well as he can…wait, what is it that Channing Tatum’s done on-screen that earned him a career? Dancing or something? Well, whatever it was– I suspect it was just his looks– he works hard to show he’s got more to him than that here, and he almost sells me on the idea. I’d like to see Tatum do something fully comedic before I completely solidify my opinion regarding his comedic chops, but I’d give the odds of success a 50/50 on the basis of what I’ve seen here (he’ll be going comedic for 21 Jump Street, and my money’s on him there).
This isn’t a “What were they thinking?!” trainwreck like Fred Claus, but it is really underwhelming. More importantly, though, it feels tedious in large doses, and that’s the worst thing a comedy can be. I’ve never, ever been a fan of Ron Howard’s films (I honestly can’t say that I’ve “loved” a single film the dude’s ever made, even if I do have respect for the guy and guess that he’s probably one of the nicer people in Hollywood), and The Dilemma showcases the kind of filmmaking that’s always driven me away from Howard’s work. Even on something like A Beautiful Mind, I couldn’t help but feel like Howard was basically churning out a really well-done paint-by-numbers piece, and that’s what The Dilemma feels like: a paint-by-numbers rom-com that lacks the same thing every other paint-by-numbers film lacks– soul, heart, and originality.
The Blu-ray looks pretty good– Universal’s Blu-rays are second only to Disney’s in terms of audio/video quality– and the special features are standard-issue: you’ve got an “alternate ending” (it’s no more entertaining than the original), a few deleted scenes, a gag reel (again, please, let’s stop it with the gag reels: we get it, actors flub their lines and sometimes people deliver odd takes– it’s not funny anymore), and a press-kit style featurette called “This is The Dilemma”.
Side Note: I’d like to address something else about the film’s packaging, though: the back of the Blu-ray is wildly crowded and confusing to read, and this problem has been getting worse and worse lately with major Blu-ray releases. Studios are making the print smaller and smaller and dividing the backs of their cover boxes into weird, oddly-shaped boxes packed with words and special features and instructions for “BD Live” and tips on how to use “PocketBLU” and notes about the “Digital Copy” and…look, it’s gotten to be too much. Leave everything but the credits, special features list, and the hokey plot description off the back of the box, guys. Put all that crap on an insert inside the box. When I pick up a Blu-ray in the store and want to know what special features are included, I don’t wanna comb through 18 different boxes of varying size and typography: I just wanna see a list of the bonus crap. Really, it’s too much, and it’s ruining the cover boxes.
Don’t bother buying The Dilemma. But if I still haven’t convinced you, make sure you rent this one before you buy it. You’ll thank me later.
My grade? D+