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The Dilemma

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Still from 'The Dilemma'
Released on Friday, Jan 21 2011

Vince Vaughn seems all-consumed with the state of modern relationships. He is the producer and star of The Dilemma, as he was in Couples Retreat and The Break-Up, but apparently, he hasn't learned very much. As slick businessman Ronny Valentine he finds himself in a situation he can't so easily talk himself out of, spotting his best friend's wife (Winona Ryder) cosied up with another man, wondering whether to tell. The emotional fall-out should be funny and insightful, but like The Break-Up, it slips through the cracks of comedy and drama, making little impact at all.

No doubt it was the pulling power of director Ron Howard that had Jennifer Connelly signing up to play Ronny's long-term girlfriend Beth (he helped her bag an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind). But her only job here is to flit between understanding and confused as Ronny gets increasingly flustered. For Ryder, the part of cheater Geneva is anything but a gift, though Howard gives her some room to show remorse. That's immediately before he cuts to Ronny on a park bench, weeping because she's threatened to tell hubbie Nick (Kevin James) that they slept together in college.

You won't know whether to laugh or cry. The spectacle of Vince Vaughn snivelling on a park bench is mostly just bemusing, but there are even less dignified moments when he gives in to a tendency for puerile humour. His scenes with Queen Latifah (who plays a trash-talking exec shepherding Ronny and Nick's new eco-car into production) are stupefying crude. Instead of deriving comedy from the tragedy of the situation, random jokes are inserted between the heavier scenes to try and balance the equation. It all makes for a very bumpy, unenlightening ride.

Things gets even bumpier when Ronny confronts The Other Man, a young hood called Zip (that's Step Up star Channing Tatum flexing the only muscles he knows how to use). The Dilemma may have been more involving if Zip had a well-judged point of view, but he talks mostly with hands, which occasionally grip a baseball bat to swing at Ronny's head. Again, Howard strikes the wrong tone. The level of violence is alarming, not funny. Beth is suitably perturbed by Ronny's behaviour and assumes he's fallen back into an old gambling habit. Sadly, there isn't enough depth to their relationship to spark a real sense of urgency when it hits the skids.

Ah, women! Who needs them anyway? That's the feeling you get towards the end of the film when - as if to counter the lack of a genuine male-female dynamic - the action veers into 'bromance' territory. The chemistry between Vaughn and James is fine, but again, the relationship lacks depth. As in Hitch and Mall Cop, James is lumbered with playing the inadequate goofball - his friendship with Vaughn being based on his willingness to be patronised by him. Of course, Vaughn plays the same fast-talking salesman he always does. Like these guys, this film is full of good intentions, but its energies are too often focussed in the wrong direction. Even for an experienced director like Howard, there are just too many problems to get around.


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