The Dilemma (review)
Boys Will Be Terrified
The real dilemma here is not: Should Vince Vaughn tell Kevin James that his — James’s — wife is cheating on him? It’s: How did Ron Howard get attached to this train wreck of a movie? Howard’s track record as a director has been hit or miss — though he has made at least two of the best movies ever: Splash and Apollo 13 — but never this deeply, disturbingly miss.
Vaughn’s (Couples Retreat, Four Christmases) Ronny Valentine is a “selfish little asshole” who doesn’t appear to have cared a whit about anyone ever, and now we’re meant to understand that he’s all torn up over whether to reveal the instance of cuckolding he accidentally witnessed, and then learned even more about when he, enraged on behalf of his friend, investigates further. Creepy stalkerish stuff gives way to creepy blackmail attempts, as Ronny tries to force Geneva (Winona Ryder: Star Trek, A Scanner Darkly) to confess to Nick (James: Grown Ups, Paul Blart: Mall Cop) that she’s been cheating with young dumb buff Channing Tatum (Dear John, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra). None of it is funny, and indeed seems mostly designed, by screenwriter Allan Loeb — who also wrote the astonishingly terrible The Switch — to highlight Geneva as a “sick and twisted” manipulative liar. The movie doesn’t actually wonder out loud what else one should expect from women, but the only other woman we get much exposure to here is Jennifer Connelly’s (Creation, 9) sweet, patient, tolerant helpmeet to Vaughn, who puts up with all his nonsense and loves him all the more because of it. If only Geneva could have been so indulgent of her man’s issues!
A movie even only slightly less dumb and slightly more self-aware than this one might have acknowledged that Vaughn’s “dilemma” is merely another act of selfishness — he wants to unburden himself of some unpleasant knowledge — but instead, his quandary serves only to underscore the film’s unintentional theme: men who are terrified of appearing unmanly, lest they be punished for it. (If Vaughn wasn’t afraid of confronting a tough emotional issue, or had any mechanisms for talking with his supposed closest friend about the complications of marriage, there’d be no movie at all.) From the subplot about how “electric cars are gay” — Vaughn and James run a small auto-industry startup developing systems that make quiet hybrid vehicles roar and rattle like 1960s muscle cars — to the sexually aggressive women that confront them at every turn — such as Queen Latifah’s (Just Wright, Valentine’s Day) Detroit consultant, who uses terms like “lady wood” and is most unfeminine in her regard for muscle cars — to the horror of being seen as a man whose wife cheats on him, the film reeks of male anxiety about the transgression of very narrow boundaries of maleness — and femaleness — without even realizing it, starting like a frightened fawn at anything that challenges such notions. It’s like being in a kindergarten full of 40-year-old children.
With a sense of humor that extends only to inflicting upon Vaughn the medical symptom of “challenging urination” in a tacked-on instance of grossout, and with no sense of any understanding of authentic human drama at all, there appears to be no purpose to this flick at all. Even people who actually like stupid movies are sure to hate it.