Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Dilemma

Spoiler alert-o-meter: Beware, all ye who enter.

Vince Vaughn’s acting style channels the easy smarm of mid-career Burt Reynolds, the edgy goofiness of Johnny Knoxville, and a medicine show barker. And occasionally pushing through are the facial expressions and double-takes of John Belushi. Vaughn has fashioned a leading-man career from a certain patter originated in Swingers and honed to effectiveness in Old School and Wedding Crashers. Vaughn incorporates this signature stream-of-consciousness into most of his movies. He usually plays alpha males who don’t know when to shut up, when to back down, and when they’ve crossed the line from ambition to folly. He is best taken in smaller doses.

In The Dilemma, Vaughn’s quick-talk algorithm is used for evil. The movie is a humorless, cringe-inducing, toneless, shape shifting mess. And it’s Vaughn’s movie all the way. He’s in almost every shot. There is only one scene not shown from his perspective. This close first person narrative is a necessity of the story which finds two couples who, due to various motives, are hiding secrets from each other. It’s sit-com material writ large and overblown.

The plot has Vaughn’s Ronny spotting the wife of his best buddy and business partner Nick (Kevin James, looking like the lost grandson of Lou Costello) kissing some random guy. Hence the dilemma: should Ronny tell Nick or not? This sets off a series of miscommunications and threats, and other various situations that aren’t funny and that turn Ronny obsessed and paranoid. It’s an episode of Three’s Company as directed by Roman Polanski.

Upon seeing the trailer for The Dilemma, I wondered why Winona Ryder (playing Nick’s wife, Geneva) and Jennifer Connelly (playing Ronny’s girlfriend, Beth) signed on for what are essentially female sidekick characters. The answer is that as the movie goes along it gets more serious. (Or less funny—hard to tell since there wasn’t a laugh track and the ten viewers in the audience weren’t doing much laughing.) Director Ron Howard cast dramatic actors in the supporting roles to give the movie’s dramatic shifts some gravitas. A smart move, as more comedic actresses either wouldn’t have been able to handle the various tones, or the audience wouldn’t have bought comediennes going serious.

Connelly has the lesser female part as Beth, a cook who is hiding a secret of her own from Ronny. She gamely carries off the role of girlfriend just like she’s done in lots of movies lately (Little Children, Reservation Road, He’s Just Not That Into You) and here her character is boilerplate with no interesting bits for her to dig into.

Ryder has the meatier female part. When Ronny meets Geneva for coffee to tell her that he plans to tell Nick about her indiscretion, Ryder’s dramatic chops get a workout. She tells Ronny that she’ll deny everything and accuse him of hitting on her. This is where the film dabbles in something more along the lines of psychological drama. Call it Ron Howard’s dark materials.

The tone shifts again. The light and dark elements of the story mix when Ronny tracks and confronts Zip, the dude Geneva has been snogging. Played by Channing Tatum, Zip is a drug ingesting, gun toting goof (it’s a thankless part, which Tatum brings some gusto to). Ronny fights Zip, ruining the guy’s apartment. And it turns ugly as Ron Howard lets Vaughn slip into some deep end of anger and compulsion.

Ronny goes from bothersome nudge to psychotic freak, fashioning an aerosol can as a blowtorch to use as a weapon. It’s not one bit funny. And it’s not supposed to be. If anything, it’s a reminder that Vince Vaughn can still act and should try dramatic roles again. But why shunt the story down this dark, dead-end?

By the end, when all is revealed in an incredibly unlikely intervention played (barely) for laughs, I just wasn’t buying any of it. If you’re a Kevin James fan, you will be disappointed to hear that he’s relegated early on to second banana. If you’re a fan of the actresses, rent some of their earlier movies. If you’re a fan of Vince Vaughn, then maybe you know something I don’t.

Skip The Dilemma.


Theater location: Lowell Showcase, Sunday, January 16th, 3:15 matinee. Price $8.25. Viewed solo. Snacks--mixed nuts, Large Diet Pepsi.

Coming Attractions:

African Cat. A nature flick from Disney. Like March of the Penguins, but with lions and tigers.

The Eagle. I forget what all the hubbub was about, so I'll quote IMDB: "In Roman-ruled Britain, a young Roman soldier endeavors to honor his father's memory by finding his lost legion's golden emblem." Like you do. With Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell.

Paul. A couple of UFO-obsessed Brits (Nick Frost, Simon Pegg) tour America hoping to learn more about Area 51, Roswell, etc., when they stumble upon a real alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen). It's live action, and the alien looks like an extra from Close Encounters. Could be cute.

Take Me Home Tonight. Topher Grace (where ya been, buddy?) can't quite make it into the current decade, and stops at 1988 for some youthful shenanigans. He's trying  to impress the girl of his dreams, and that's apparently tough to do when you still only work at Suncoast Video. So he lies. Hilarity (as it always does when you lie) ensues.

Your Highness. "When Prince Fabious's bride is kidnapped, he goes on a quest to rescue her... accompanied by his lazy useless brother Thadeous." Natalie Portman plays straight lady to a goofy James Franco and Danny McBride. 

1 comment:

Cynthia Sherrick said...

I just saw a commercial for "The Dilemma" on TV. The voice over narrator said "The critics agree this is the best new film of 2011".

We're only on day 21 of 2011 so that's not really saying much. :)

Another insightful review.