Vince Vaughn and Kevin James are the best of besties dealing with several stressful issues in The Dilemma, a harsh and unpleasant buddy comedy.
It figures — after years of romantic comedies full of shrill and unlikable people, it was only a matter of time before similarly awful characters started showing up in bromantic comedies. I happened to catch a bit of The Break-Up recently and it reminded me that Vaughn has been doing this kind of cruelty-rich, humanity-poor fast-talking shtick for a few years now. The deep meanness of this movie bounds over the line between funny and hard-to-watch: it’s the difference between the mean but still entertaining Ricky Gervais Golden Globes monologues as viewed from my stakes-free living room and the way it landed, lemon-juice-coated salt into paper cut, in the audience. This entire movie is like an evil-intentioned roast delivered when someone was expecting a love letter.
Ronny (Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) are best buds who are trying to close the deal of their life — selling Dodge on their electric engine that comes with the sound and the vibration of old-school muscle cars. Into this on-edge professional situation come two stress-inducing personal dilemmas for Ronny: (1) he feels it’s time to ask longtime girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly) to marry him and (2) while location-hunting for his big proposal, he spies Nick’s wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), kissing another man. Does Ronny tell Nick and risk throwing him off his game during this dicey professional moment? Does he keep the secret and risk losing his friend? His confusion over what to do is compounded by two stress-inducing facts: (1) he is a gambling addict and the squirrellier he acts, the more his friends think he’s back placing bets and losing money and (2) long before Nick and Geneva hooked up in college, Ronny had a one-night stand with her that he and Geneva have never told Nick about.
So Ronny’s running around lying to Nick and keeping things from Beth and eventually trying to get concrete evidence of Geneva’s cheating to present to Nick. Despite the hijinks involved in all of this, none of it is funny and plenty of it is accompanied by bitter-flavored speechifying and wacky situations with a cruel edge that are pushed in our face for laughing at, even though they are devoid of funny. This movie is a chore to sit through — every five minutes (and occasionally every three minutes) I found myself checking my cell phone, wanting it all to be over.
The Dilemma has nothing redeemable — no genuine emotion between any of the characters, no cleverness to the story. Stranger still, when it isn’t irritating us with its sour central plotlines, it’s befuddling us with the electric car sideplot, featuring a poorly used Queen Latifah and that stupid speech (cut from trailers) that earned this movie criticism for being offensive but is more an example of lazy, thoughtless writing. This part of the movie appears mostly to be an ad for the Dodge Charger, one that I’ve been tricked into paying some $7 to watch.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving sexual content. Directed by Ron Howard and written by Allan Loeb, The Dilemma is an hour and 58 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Universal Pictures.