The dilemma of The Dilemma is that the conundrum at the center of the story isn’t particularly hilarious: If Bachelor A finds out that Married Best Friend B’s wife is secretly cheating on him, should A tell B? That’s a great story premise; it’s just not particularly built for laughs. But producer Brian Grazer and director Ron Howard are intent on keeping things light, even in the depiction of pain.
So they cast Kevin James (the rotund, funny everyguy) as Nick, the cuckolded husband, and Vince Vaughn (the tall, funning, faux slickster) as Ronny, the friend with the unenviable dilemma. They make Nick and Ronny business partners at an automotive engine design company as well as buddies, developing a workplace subplot in which Queen Latifah gets to talk ballsy as a car consultant and the partners get to pump each other up with football analogies. (The gratuitous, alienating, business-pitch ”gay” joke that stirred up controversy when the scene appeared in early trailers is still there, being gratuitous and alienating.) Grazer and Howard let Vaughn loose to improvise in a lot of slapsticky, motormouth scenes as Ronny spies on his friend’s wife while putting off his decision to tell or not to tell. Even the violence is slapsticky as Ronny confronts Zip (Channing Tatum), the buff, tattooed younger guy who’s been showing Nick’s wife an illicit good time.
But, working from a story idea dreamed up by Grazer and a script by Allan Loeb (The Switch), the filmmakers just don’t know what to do about the ladies. And the result is a hedging, unresolved production built on an accretion of secrets and stuff that remains unsaid only in movies where the plot depends on delayed confrontation with reality. Nick’s wife, Geneva (played by Winona Ryder with coiled energy), appears at first to be an upbeat live wire who enjoys being with her husband (the couple are great together on the dance floor). Later, when confronted by Ronny, she becomes a lying manipulator who glares with glittering, kohl-rimmed eyes. And Ronny’s patient, perfect girlfriend, Beth (portrayed by Jennifer Connelly like a model out of a fantasy-toy catalog), adores her imperfect man but turns out, when the plot calls for it, to be hiding her own little stash of secrets.
The real quandary in The Dilemma? Why must Ronny and Nick fight over women at all when, really, all they want to do is hang out together — drinking beer, watching hockey, looking at each other with eyes that say, I love you, man, while never having to talk about anything at all. The predicament is, the movie has no honest answers for this guy-guy crisis. C+