One and a half stars out of four
Here’s a dilemma: what would you do after you find out your best friend’s wife is playing around behind his back and then learn he’s been making regular Thursday night visits to his local massage parlour staffed by exotic interchangeable flowers of the Orient?
If you’re a man with a lick of sense, you shake your head sadly, file the whole thing under Mind Your Own Business and get on with your life.
But then there wouldn’t be much a dilemma and not much point in making a movie about the moral quandary that ensues when Ronny Valentine, played by Vince Vaughn, discovers his best bud Nick’s wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), is getting it on with a sexy, tattooed stud named Zip.
Intended as a buddy comedy with Vaughn teaming up with Paul Blart: Mall Cop’s Kevin James as his best pal Nick, there isn’t much screen chemistry between these two. James spends the entire film playing against funny type as a tense auto designer nursing an ulcer. Likewise, the story — other than Ronny’s various pratfalls — is a queasy mix of drama and comedy that never really gives itself wholly to one genre or the other.
Right off the bat, director Ron Howard’s latest, The Dilemma, feels strangely pointless.
It doesn’t get much better as we follow Ronny’s misadventures as he spies on Nick’s missus. He encounters a nasty plant called passiflora incarnata, which covers much of his face and body with oozing welts and makes urination “challenging.” He later confronts Geneva’s paramour, Zip, which leads to further bodily injury and humiliation, all in the name of protecting Nick, who, as it turns out, is no saint himself.
Along the way, Ronny tells a series of bald-faced lies to his very supportive girlfriend, Beth, played by Jennifer Connelly, to explain his odd behaviour and various injuries rather than simply let her in on what he knows and seeking her advice and support. The morality gets rather murky indeed.
As a filmmaker, Howard, whose lengthy body of work includes a number of decent comedies (Parenthood, Splash, Night Shift) is nothing if not thorough and so The Dilemma in question takes almost two hours to resolve itself in a way that feels clumsy, tedious and unsatisfying.
Along the way, Howard gives younger brother Clint yet another cameo role in one of his films and wastes the talents of everyone, including Queen Latifah as an auto industry executive who uses language like “serious lady-wood” that falls flat and adds to the general discomfort level.
Much of the problem lies at the doorstep of writer Allan Loeb, whose script is a strange hodgepodge of angst, slapstick and bad dialogue, including Ronny’s description of electric cars as “gay — I mean, not homosexual gay, but my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay,” a remark that has already generated a minor stir of controversy. In the end it’s more stupid than funny.
There’s one simple way to resolve this dilemma: Go see something else.
Bruce DeMara is a syndicated Toronto Star movie critic.