Confession: I am not a fan of Vince Vaughn; I simply do not find him funny or engaging. His motormouth ramblings irritate rather than amuse me, so going in, The Dilemma was always going to be a hard sell. Still, with Ron Howard (of Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon fame) at the helm, one could reasonably expect an entertaining film, right?
Howard hasn't made a comedy for quite some time (2000's The Grinch), but a director of his skill should know what's funny and what's not; he should certainly know what tone he wants his film to take. But The Dilemma, marketed as a comedy, is more a comedy-drama (co-ma for short, and more apt); wavering uncomfortably between humour and more serious intent, and never succeeding on either level.
Ronny Valentine (Vaughn) is placed between a rock and a hard place when he happens upon a clandestine meeting between the wife of his best friend and business partner, Nick (Kevin James), and her younger lover. Ronny isn't sure if the guy code requires him to inform his best friend or keep his mouth shut, ergo the dilemma.
Mistakenly he confronts Nick's wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), whose reaction swings wildly between contrition and defiance; promising to end the affair before threatening to expose her pre-marriage, college fling with Ronny as the reason for his making up such a lie: who's her husband going to believe? It doesn't help that screenwriter, Allen Loeb, can't seem to decide if Ryder's Geneva is a villain or a victim of marital circumstance.
I found the film to be almost painfully unfunny (granted, most of my pain emanating from my aversion to Vaughn), while its serious moments can't be taken seriously at all. And a melding of the two, such as the intervention scene, is extremely awkward.
Jennifer Connolly plays Ronny's girlfriend, Beth, but I suspect her participation was more of a favour to Howard who directed her to an Oscar in A Beautiful Mind. The role is a thankless one, as is Queen Latifah's as a Chrysler employee overseeing Ronny and Nick's electric car project.
You may recall the minor controversy last year over the “electric cars are gay” joke? Ronny and Nick's line of work is to convert major brand diesel guzzlers into eco-friendly runarounds without losing any of the prestige or power. Howard et al seem to have followed their lead, only instead of injecting some audience-friendly grunt, they've lost any kind of potential the material may have had by trying to have the best of both worlds - comedy and drama - and misfiring on all cylindars.