With Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connolly, Channing Tatum. Directed by Ron Howard. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving sexual content. 118 minutes.
When the credits rolled at the end of THE DILEMMA, this reviewer had one question: is it too soon to pronounce something “the worst film of the year?” Alas, it’s likely we have a ways to go before we hit rock bottom, but when the worst of the year lists are compiled 12 months hence, “The Dilemma” is assured a place on it.
Usually reliable director Ron Howard takes a premise that sounds like an episode of “The Jerry Springer Show” and turns it into a painfully unfunny comedy. Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) are best friends and business partners. There’s a long (and safe to ignore) set-up involving them developing an electric car motor. It includes an extended cameo by Queen Latifah in a performance she will spend the next several years trying to explain away.
The real story is that Nick is married to Geneva (Winona Ryder) and perennial bachelor Ronny is trying to get up the nerve to pop the question to Beth (Jennifer Connolly). It is at this point the story finally begins when Ronny discovers that Geneva is having an affair with heavily tattooed boytoy Zip (Channing Tatum). So now Ronny has “the dilemma” of deciding whether or not to tell Nick.
What follows are his excruciatingly lame attempts to figure out a solution, from confronting Geneva to playing private detective and taking pictures. He doesn’t confide in Beth so she’s under the impression that Ronny, a compulsive gambler, is back to his old ways. Since the proceedings aren’t particularly amusing, Howard and scriptwriter Alan Loeb attempt to liven things up with fistfights. Zip and Ronny exchange blows, Nick takes out Ronny… there’s almost as much onscreen battering here as there is in “The Fighter.”
As for the performances, the less said the better. Connelly, who won her Oscar under Howard’s direction in “A Beautiful Mind,” is clearly here doing him a favor (she reportedly replaced a previously cast Jennifer Garner). Ryder, working her way toward a well-deserved comeback, has more screen time here than in “Black Swan,” but to much less effect. Vaughn, who has taken to producing his films, would be better off concentrating on his acting. His last good role was in 2005’s “The Wedding Crashers,” which he did not produce.
And then there’s Kevin James. If anyone needs a helping hand in his career it is James, who proves equally adept at comedy and more dramatic scenes and is frequently better than the material he’s handed. Let’s hope he gets that great part before the Hollywood powers that be prove their short attention spans by moving on to someone else (or giving him another “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”).
“The Dilemma” is being dumped in January, a traditional time for Oscar contenders to go wide, and for Hollywood to clear off their shelves of their most misbegotten projects. Suffice to say, this is no Oscar contender.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.