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Comedy evolves; pacing and material are subject to their age.  The jokes that cracked up the Neanderthals, had Ďem rolling in Ancient Greece, or got giggles from the Pilgrims probably wouldnít raise a chuckle today.  We have more recent evidence of this statement with those snapshots of time known as the motion picture.  The temperaments and subject matter that made Wheeler and Woolsey stars would be hard-pressed to go up against the breakneck wackiness of Monty Python or the Zucker Brothers.  So it goes with The Dilemma, by director Ron Howard.  Unfortunately for Howard, who made the hilarious Night Shift {1982}, as well as the slightly awkward in hindsight Gung Ho {1986}, the excellent Parenthood {1989} and the unintentionally comical Angels and Demons {2009}, it seems his taste for slower, more thoughtfully conceived fare isnít necessarily the best mix for a farce that bears decidedly more madcap, Apatow-nian trappings, or at least should have done.

The dilemma in question is the one no BFF ever wants to face; what if you find out your best budís mate is cheating on them?  On the verge of what could be their biggest business deal, Ronny is put in the position of having to break his partner Nickís heart by telling him his wife is playing around with a young, tattooed bohunk, or keeping it to himself until the contract is settled.  Turning himself inside out over what to do, Ronnyís own happiness is threatened when the pressure of the decision makes for some sudden, crazy behaviour that has his own lady suspicious that Ronny mightíve have fallen into bad old habits.

Thatís it, thatís the whole plot.  One would have to do a lot of work to make a meal out of this threadbare and tired premise.  Luckily for Howard heís got Vince Vaughn as his lead; he of the rapid fire motor-mouth whose off-hand pop culture references and innate pacing can breathe life into the most stagnant of clunkers.  Vaughn has a lot of work before him on The Dilemma, which except for a few genuinely funny bits, never takes off or hits a stride.  A good idea was the pairing of Vaughn with fellow funnyman Kevin James, who Iím convinced is the lovechild of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble.  James is so cuddly and sweet that even when his Nick loses his temper at Ronny, you just wanna pat him on the head and pinch his chubby cheek.  While not as symbiotic as the duo of Vaughn and Jon Favreau in Swingers {1996}, Vaughn and James trade off each other well with James buffering any brittleness from Vaughnís endless patter.  Vaughnís rat-a-tat style doesnít work so well coming from James, however, and midway through an attempt -- an analogy about how married life was like stew and Ronnyís singledom was more like ice cream that ended up in a car crash -- nearly stops the film cold.  As does any time the movie tries to get sentimental about its romantic relationships, which is way too often, way too long throughout the last act.  

Black Swanís Winona Ryder continues her cinematic comeback as Nickís cheating wife; another witchy character and a thankless role thatís beneath her.  Speaking of thankless roles, Jennifer Connolly is wasted as the love of Ronnyís life, as she has to do is stand there and look confused -- though what was confusing to me was why they cast two actresses who looked so similar?  Connolly and Ryder could be sisters.  Queen Latifah has a weird but funny bit role as a new business partner whose sexually inappropriate repartee gives Nick and Ronny some misgivings.  Nearly all the humour in The Dilemma is built on misunderstandings; a device even sitcoms rarely use these days, which tells you how stale the foundation of the movie is.  The proceedings are so stodgy and warmed over that one wonders if Howard can keep up with the faster pace and fresher situations that todayís audiences, fed on a steady diet of Judd Apatow and Will Ferrell expect from todayís comedy?

The Dilemma for audiences is whether they would appreciate this slight, threadbare film but for the indefatigable energy of Vince Vaughn?



~ The Lady Miz Diva

January 14th, 2011





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