by M. Faust
You know the phrase “neither fish nor fowl”? That’s the best way to describe this uncomfortable mix of drama and comedy, which lumbers around for two hours like a beast trying to fly with fins and swim with wings. (I plan to submit this to The New Yorker’s “Block that Metaphor!” editor.)
It’s the kind of mess that makes you suspect there was some kind of shake-up in the film’s production history. Perhaps Ron Howard was brought in to direct after someone more versed in broad comedy dropped out. Or maybe Vince Vaughn and Kevin James were hired by the producers for roles that had been conceived for more adaptable actors. Instead, The Dilemma seems to have been a remarkable organic production from start to finish: The idea was conceived by director Ron Howard and his producing partner Brian Grazer, who then presented it to Vaughn. When he expressed interest, it was assigned to writer Allan Loeb, who tailored it to specifications.
The premise—what’s a guy to do when he finds out that his best friend’s wife is cheating on him—isn’t really inherently funny. It could be the basis for a French farce, but no one here wanted to go for that nasty edge. Instead, Howard and Vaughn want to keep the characters sympathetic, which blunts the potential for comedy even as the comical sequences are held back by what on paper sounds like an adult approach. Vaughn and James were presumably attracted by a chance to add some dramatic chops to their mostly comic resumes. Instead, they’ll simply disappoint fans expecting belly laughs. (The funniest performance in the film comes from, of all people, Channing Tatum, and he’s not all that funny.)
Ron Howard is no one’s idea of a cinematic master, but in 30 years of filmmaking he has generally demonstrated solid instincts for pleasing an audience. Not this time.
Watch the trailer for The Dilemma
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