Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Dilemma (2011)

Who Killed The Electric Sports Car?

- I honestly do not know who had the bigger dilemma: Ronny Valentine (Vince Vaughn), who under ever complicating circumstances had to find a way to tell his best friend Nick (Kevin James) that he caught Nick's wife kissing another man, or Oscar-winning director Ron Howard, who had the daunting task of trying to make The Dilemma (2011) a watchable film.

The Dilemma is a painfully unfunny and embarrassingly bad buddy/romantic comedic drama from Ron Howard. The multitudes of negative aspects in the film not only overshadow any of the film's minor positives but beat them to a bloody pulp, proceeding to steal their wallets and identities.

The film is so absurd that one does not know where to begin. Oh wait, I take that back; I will begin by saying that there is no way in hell that Vince Vaughn and Kevin James could score Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder! Ah, the magic of movies....

Never mind for a moment the fact that they romance out-of-their-league ladies; one wonders why comedic actors Vince Vaughn and especially Kevin James were cast at all since they are not a good fit for this type of film. The Dilemma, while surely featuring a lot of comedic elements, includes many dramatic elements that make it a far cry from the kind of full-on comedy that one would expect Vaughn and/or James to star. Because they are more comedic than dramatic actors, the casting of James and to a lesser extent Vaughn immediately dumbs down the drama and changes the overall feel of the film from a dramedy (think Sideways (2004) or Little Miss Sunshine (2006)) to more of a pure fratish comedy (like any of the number of films in Vaughn or James' filmography) with the occasional dash of deflated drama.

None of the mostly misplaced actors impress but Kevin James is without a doubt the most misplaced and least impressive member of the cast. James' suburban everyman persona simply does not fit his character: Nick, a kind of troubled genius mechanic, who, together with Ronny, is developing an electric engine for GM's electric sports car models.

Wait a minute: An electric sports car? Are you kidding me? An electric sports car is about as cool as a pimped-up and decked-out Toyota Corolla.

On top of being miscast, James is just not funny in the least. Hating Kevin James seems to be kind of fashionable nowadays, what with his string of critically-panned movies as of late (from Chuck & Larry to Paul Blart to Grown Ups and everything in between), but I actually think James has the capacity for a good performance. For example, I thought he was not only funny but just all-around good in Hitch (2005) and Grilled (2006) which were both a far better fit for James' style of comedic acting. But in The Dilemma, James is completely out-of-his-element in the dramatic scenes and cannot get the audience to crack a smile, let alone burst out in a belly laugh, because he comes off extremely clumsy in the comedic scenes - perhaps all because he is quite simply the wrong choice to play the character.

Known for giving great performances, Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder unfortunately do not offset the cast all that much. Certainly not bad in the role, Connelly is clearly overqualified to be some lifeless love interest - it is like hiring a physicist as a stock boy. She does what she can with the character but is just not given enough to do in the film to really be impressive. Why Connelly is wasting her time and talents co-starring in this awful film in the first place, we may never know.... Ryder's character is certainly a bit more colorful than Connelly's character but even she does not impress all that much. At a certain point in the film, I began to wonder if Ryder even knew that she was acting in a movie, as I get the impression that she is this crazy all of the time.

While perhaps not the ideal choice for Ronny (since a role of this nature requires an actor with greater range), Vince Vaughn is my pick for the best member of the cast. In an interesting shift in role choices as of late, Vaughn has been leaving behind much of his frat-boy ways (i.e. Old School (2003) and Wedding Crashers (2005)) to star as an ordinary guy who is a film's lone moral character amidst immorality and selfishness. Couple's Retreat (2009) is a perfect example of a Vince Vaughn lone moral character and Vaughn's role in The Dilemma certainly fits into this trend as well. But the fact that Vaughn's Ronny character is the film's moral center does not make Vaughn's performance good in and of itself. What makes Vaughn work in the role more than the rest of his co-stars is that he brings a certain authenticity and presence to the character while simply not making as many miscalculations. Vaughn is not particularly hilarious as Ronny but he does fare much better than his co-stars in creating a generally sympathetic character while not completely failing to convince during the film's dramatic moments.

Unfortunately, The Dilemma has far worse problems than its not-so-great cast. Ron Howard simply does not form a high-quality or funny movie out of Allan Loeb's screenplay; The Dilemma is not humorous, thoughtful, atmospheric, or particularly consistent in any area.

First of all, The Dilemma also has no flow or energy. Howard films The Dilemma well enough to visually distinguish it from other style-less modern comedies but not well enough that any tangible atmosphere can be felt. Secondly, The Dilemma is just not a funny movie. I am honestly not sure how much of the failed attempts at comedy is the fault of screenwriter Allan Loeb because much of the film's comedy seems improvised by Vaughn and James; however, I am sure that, no matter who exactly is at fault, very few sequences in the film actually end up funny. Whether it is Channing Tatum's irritating strung-out rocker character, Queen Latifah talking about her "lady wood," or Vaughn making a painfully bad anniversary toast, the comedy in The Dilemma feels awkward and uncomfortable instead of amusing or clever.

Also, The Dilemma has little narrative congruency. The film opens with the introduction of its main themes but then, rather than continuing to tell the story with the themes in mind, continues on with some rather unfunny skits before picking the themes up again about 40 minutes into the story. This incongruent narrative gives the film a rather unpleasant disjointed feel.

Howard does even not wrap up the film's main themes or provide much in the way of closure on the entire story. One gets the impression through a number of different scenes in the film that Howard and company attempted The Dilemma to actually be about something, rather than just exist as a knee-slapping good time with Vince Vaughn and Kevin James. However, the film ends up feeling like it is about nothing at all. In more than one instance, The Dilemma takes the time to explore ideas of how much a person does or can know about another but by the end it neither lands on a firm conclusion nor opens things up for the audience to draw their own. The film instead simply forgets all its thematic elements at the moment where other films would have placed extreme importance on them, which really takes the air out of the story.

But, hey, who wants to think about the nature of relationships when we can watch Vince Vaughn and Kevin James screw around at a Chicago Blackhawks game?

The whole thing is really quite perplexing: many films in Howard's filmography (Cinderella Man (2005), Apollo 13 (1995), Frost/Nixon (2008), and more) are high quality films with great characters, themes, and atmosphere. By contrast, The Dilemma fails the viewer in these and so many more ways that it becomes hard to believe that Ron Howard was the one sitting in the director's chair.

CBC Rating: 4/10

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