'The Dilemma' can't make up its mind



Article Published: Jan. 20, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'The Dilemma' can't make up its mind

Kevin James and Vince Vaughn star in 'The Dilemma.'



frank@mountaintimes.com

The dilemma with "The Dilemma" is identity.

Packed with comedy, melodrama, slapstick and violence, director Ron Howard's ("Frost/Nixon") latest has it all. But with "The Dilemma," giving it one's all isn't necessarily a good thing.

It seems like it should go one way (comedy) or the other (drama), with enough star power, talent and direction to successfully go either, but not both.

"The Dilemma" asks some profound questions, which are undermined by comic gags. In turn, these gags are nullified by melodrama. It's not a seamless mesh of the two, but more like mixing melodramatic oil with funny water.

Vince Vaughn ("Wedding Crashers") and Kevin James (TV's "King of Queens") are Ronny and Nick, respectively, best friends and business partners in a small automotive engineering company.

With Ronny in a happy relationship with girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly, "Blood Diamond") and Nick married to wife of 20 years Geneva (Winona Ryder, "Black Swan"), things seem peachy keen, especially when the duo lands a potential contract with Dodge.

If they can design and supply a hybrid engine fit for a muscle car, Dodge will grant them exclusive contract for years to come.

But there's trouble in paradise, when Ronny, while scouting locations for his proposal to Beth, spies Geneva in mid-affair with another man (Channing Tatum, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra"). Undetected, Ronny returns to work, shouldering a hefty dilemma: To tell or not to tell.

For fear of jeopardizing Nick's work, Ronny initially opts for the latter and attempts to gather more information to make a case. But in order to hide his impending proposal to Beth, he fabricates a web of lies that only makes things more complicated.

It gets worse when he finally confronts Geneva, who, in turn, tells Ronny that Nick has his own indiscretions. Further, she threatens to blackmail Ronny should he tell Nick.

Therein lays the dilemma, and the more Ronny attempts to dig himself out, the more he digs himself in.

From a comedy standpoint, Vaughn and James share a good chemistry, convincing in their "bromance" and quick on the chuckles. As usual, Vaughn plays himself, but, ever since 1996's "Swingers," that's to be expected.

On the other side of the fence, it's refreshing to see Ryder return to a larger role, which she has no trouble filling. In fact, most of the performances are spot on, putting them at odds with a screenplay that's anything but.

Working with a screenplay from Allan Loeb ("Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps"), Howard can't find a balance between the funny and the serious.

One minute, we're watching Ronny suffer the slapstick effects of a poisonous plant, and then we're watching him cope with a gambling addiction that nearly destroyed his and Beth's lives.

Or there's Queen Latifah ("Valentine's Day") as an automotive consultant joking about her "lady wood," followed by Geneva's inner struggle to rationalize her actions to maintain a marriage that, despite its considerable hiccups, somehow works for them.

The comedy and drama are effective on their own, but together they're simply exhausting, as "The Dilemma" avoids any kind of balancing act and ceaselessly jumps back and forth.

There are shining moments for both, including Ronny's appallingly awkward anniversary toast and the inevitable confrontation, proving that Howard and company know what they're doing. But successfully blending comedy and drama? Therein lays their dilemma.

"The Dilemma," rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving sexual content, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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