How long can Vince Vaughn keep coasting on his motor-mouth riffing?
It stopped being funny several films ago. Or maybe it’s that his ability to choose scripts strong enough to support that kind of endless riffing disappeared several years ago. What we’re left with is a movie as slack and slow-moving as “The Dilemma,” opening Friday, a film that further diminishes whatever weight might have been carried by the phrase “Oscar-winning director Ron Howard.”
Vaughn plays Ronny Valentine, a Chicago businessman who, with his partner Nick (Kevin James), has a company that designs mechanical improvements for cars, which they try to sell to Detroit. They’ve hit on one – involving using the technology of electric cars to create a contemporary muscle car that’s energy efficient – that earns them an audition at General Motors’ Detroit headquarters.
(In reality, wouldn’t Detroit be kissing up to guys like this, who have figured out a way to rescue an American auto industry still seemingly in the pocket of the oil companies?)
Nick and Ronny are offered the chance to develop this new technology – and the hefty contract that will go with it. At the same time, Ronnie is trying to come to terms with his long-running but, so far, unmarried relationship with his girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly). Nick and his wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), are pushing Ronnie to pop the question to Beth. When Ronnie decides to do it, he heads for a local botanical garden, to try to arrange a proposal moment that will be spectacularly memorable.
Instead, he stumbles across Geneva in a secret rendezvous with a tattooed dirtball named Zip (Channing Tatum). Hence, the film’s title: Does Ronnie reveal what he knows to his best friend, ruining his life and, simultaneously, jeopardizing the project for Detroit, on which Nick serves as the techno-brainiac?
Unfortunately, Howard and writer Allan Loeb don’t know how to turn a classic farce set-up into an actual farce. Yes, there are secrets, mistaken impressions (Ronnie’s weird behavior convinces everyone he knows that he’s relapsed into gambling addiction) and violent confrontations. But while this movie huffs and puffs a lot, it rarely produces anything resembling a truly funny moment.
Instead, we’re left with Vaughn’s long-winded improvs, which seldom lead to real pay-offs. He goes all wide-eyed and starts talking – and for some reason, Howard just lets him talk, despite the fact that he would need a GPS to guide him back to a punchline or even a salient point.
James doesn’t have much more to work with and neither do Ryder, Connelly or the rest of the cast. There’s a lot of activity but little that results in genuine humor – or even false humor.
“The Dilemma” suffers from the mistaken impression that it’s a comedy. Instead, it’s merely a template for comedy, handed to a group of people who obviously had no idea what to do with it.