The Dilemma

The Dilemma from Director Ron Howard opened across the country today. From the trailers one might think this is a) a buddy film, or b) a rom/com, or even a drama and a comedy. Well, the reality is that it is all of the above to greater or lesser degrees depending upon where in the film you opt to make the call.

Starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, The Dilemma is correctly titled although that word ‘dilemma’ is rather old and gives us no clue as to what the film is about other than someone having a problem. Then again calling the film Between a Rock and a Hard Place would have been longer and newer, but wouldn’t have been any better in the clue department.

The story comes down to what do you do when you discover that your best friend’s wife is cheating on him. This is an easy question to comprehend, but there are no easy answers as to what to do. Vince Vaughn as Ronny Valentine is placed in this situation and it nearly eats him up alive.

The best friend is Kevin James as Nick Brannen. Together Nick and Ronny are B&V Motor Design and they’re right in the middle of trying to build a perfect engine design and then sell it Chrysler for their high performance cars. There’s huge amounts of money at stake, high pressure, competition, and by the way – accomplishing this is no easy task. Just getting a meeting to make their pitch was almost beyond their wildest dreams.

Nick is married to Geneva who is played by Winona Ryder. As the film begins, everything about their situation looks peachy. Ronny is living with, in a state of unmarried bliss, Beth who is played wonderfully by Jennifer Connelly. After securing the meeting with Chrysler, the foursome is out for a celebratory dinner. Geneva pulls Ronny aside and tells him that he’d better pop the question to Beth. We’re talking marriage proposal here. So that’s what’s on Ronny’s plate on top of the pending car deal.

Ron Howard who has done a great job with the visuals in this film is working from Allen Loeb’s screenplay, and in my opinion, this is the weak link to the movie.

The script calls for numerous long, some even agonizingly long, speeches by Vaughn’s Valentine. They pop up about every twenty minutes or so. Vaughn does well with them in the sense that he’s earnest, forthright, and honest – even alarmingly so – but they don’t always advance the story. We get a long look into Ronny Valentine’s inner self, his inner turmoil, and so forth, but they become increasingly harder to sit through as the film progresses.

My other major complaint about The Dilemma is the fact that nothing is as what it appears to be. There are always at least two sides to every story, which you safely expect. But Howard and Loeb have played us like they’re the fisherman and we are the fish. Every 15 minutes or so, we find that everyone in this picture – from Nick, to Ronnie, to Geneva, and even Beth – have secrets. A new plot development or reversal or revelatory surprise is suddenly tossed in like a grenade that explodes right in front of us, and it’s like Whoa, I didn’t see that coming.

While you are entertained, by the end of the film, you feel that you were tricked, or that the film was overly plotted with one gimmicky surprise after another.

For example – Geneva’s paramour who is called Zip (Channing Tatum has the part) – is a hunky dude with Tats all over. You’d think that he was either a punk rocker, or a member of a street gang. But he does have an unexpected side to him – which you won’t see coming either.

In what amount to a small part, we have Queen Latifah as Susan Warner, who is the Chrysler executive assigned to Nick and Ronnie. Latifah hits a homerun by playing this executive for laughs.

She loves their project and she’s excited by the throbbing of the engines, and the sounds and feel of the car – so much so, that she’s excited to the extent of getting some ‘lady wood’ as she calls it. Howard and Loeb liked that phrase so much that we heard it at least four times. I would have liked it better if they made more use of Latifah in the film, but as it was, we got her on screen for only about 10 minutes.

The film will entertain you, and it looks terrific, but everyone one is misled by the trailer. There’s not a lot of laughs in this film, it is tilted much more to the drama side than the comedy side.

In fact, in the trailer, you’ll see Ronnie giving himself a pep talk including a self hug. A Mom and son walk by, and the youngster says to her, “Mom, why is that man hugging himself?”

... Just keep walking.

She tugs her son along to avoid the self-hugger like he was a plague, and with a distinct shudder she replies, “Just keeping walking.”

In the final release, they cut out the boy’s question. All we see is them steering for a wide berth and hear Just Keep walking. When you think that his three second question ended up being cut out of the film, yet at other times, we are subjected to Vince Vaughn doing yet another seemingly endless soliloquy, you will be scratching your head about that choice. Which was just one of many of their choices (script-wise) that I didn’t understand.

Maybe deciding what and when to cut was Loeb and Howard’s dilemma? And I think in many cases, their choices were wrong.

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