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The Dilemma

Not an Easy Choice

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Every film has a premise and every premise, no matter how ridiculous, has a “buy-in” clause. Moviegoers implicitly or explicitly agree to buy-in to a film’s premise the moment they purchase their movie ticket (assuming, of course, they know something about the film they’re about to watch and don’t make their choices randomly).

Unfortunately, the premise for Oscar-winner Ron Howard’s (The Da Vinci Code, Cinderella Man, A Beautiful Mind) first comedy in more than a decade (after 1999’s EdTV), The Dilemma, falters from the opening scene and never recovers, falling short on delivering the laughs promised by the involvement of veteran actor Vince Vaughan and TV-sitcom-turned-improbable-movie-star Kevin James.

The Dilemma centers on longtime best friends Ronny Valentine (Vaughn) and Nick Brannen (James), college friends turned business partners in an auto design company. Their significant others, Valentine’s live-in girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly), and Brannen’s wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder). Howard and screenwriter Allan Loeb (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, 21 introduce the first of many contrivances: Valentine’s a recovering gambler with commitment issues, setting up increasingly implausible complications based on the hoariest of hoary sitcom clichés, the misunderstanding (in this case based on trust).

What Valentine offers to the company he owns with Brannen is never clarified, but he presumably serves as all-around office manager, bookkeeper, and chief marketer. He’s basically the company pitchman, an inside-the-comfort-zone role for Vaughan, an actor who’s built a career around egocentric fast-talkers with maturity issues.

Brannen conveniently suffers from panic attacks and all-around social anxiety, making Valentine’s importance to their company pivotal, if not essential. Valentine’s the Eduardo Saverin to Brannen’s Mark Zuckerberg (i.e., the money man/organizer to the genius inventor). At an auto show, Valentine unsurprisingly talks the CEO of Chrysler to give their company a chance to pitch their latest, still-in-development product, an electric motor that can power a sports/muscle car.

While searching for the perfect spot to propose to Beth, Valentine spots Geneva in a compromising position with the tattooed, muscle-bound Zip (Channing Tatum). With little doubt about Geneva’s fidelity, Valentine initially decides to tell Brannen everything he knows, but with a looming deadline and the future of their company at stake, Valentine chooses the weasel’s way out, doing everything except telling Brannen.

Complications arise from Valentine’s increasingly bizarre behavior, Beth’s growing suspicions, and the pull of his frazzled, semi-developed conscience to do the right thing, leading, sitcom-style, to a series of misunderstandings, pratfalls and other minor bits of slapstick involving James’ girth and Vaughan’s lack of coordination.

The bromantic bonds between Valentine and Brannen hang in the balance, but The Dilemma does almost nothing to make us care about them as individuals or collectively. Add too many subplots, unnecessary characters supposedly added for comic relief (e.g., Queen Latifah’s character, a Chrysler consultant prone to inappropriate sex talk), and poor pacing and the result can be only described as underwhelming.