Ron Howard's The Dilemma presents the viewer with one. Is it OK to laugh at what was plainly intended as a relationship comedy? Because the best scenes in this Vince Vaughn/Kevin James buddy picture, in which one buddy's wife is cheating on him and the other finds out, give us more to chew on than laugh about.
And that uncertainty — "Wait, is that supposed to be funny?" — makes for a surprising but unsatisfying experience.
Vaughn and James are partners in a Chicago auto-engineering business. Ronny (Vaughn) is the seller with a patter. Nick (James) is the tech guy. Their big idea: Give electric cars a rumble and shake, what Nick (James) calls "the visceral experience" of muscle cars.
Ronny? His pitch to Chrysler is to make electric cars less "gay."
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As Nick toils, trying to get the right sound and shake, Ronny is trying to get up the gumption to propose to sexy chef Beth (Jennifer Connelly).
As he scouts for the perfect place to propose, Ronny stumbles across Nick's wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), making out with a rich, hunky younger man, played by Channing Tatum.
Thus the dilemma. To tell Nick, how to tell him, when to tell him that won't mess up their deadline with Chrysler. Or to confront Geneva. Or ask Beth for advice. What is the "Guy Code" in such situations?
"It's all about trust," Ronny frets. As he frets, he starts to lie. He has flashbacks, as director Howard feels the need to literally show the fib Ronny is shaping in his head. Funny.
But the lies and a cracked, veiled and funny anniversary-party toast make everybody wonder whether Ronny's little "problem" is back in his life, an element shoe-horned into this "issues"-oriented script.
Vaughn slows down his vintage Vince patter for this. He's still funny, but he's losing his fastball. So Queen Latifah comes in and broadly chews it up as a Chrysler exec who uses all manner of inappropriate sexual analogies in praising their car concept. Ronny spies on the cheating wife and gets into an epic tussle with tattooed, pill-popping freak Zip, given a manic hilarity by Tatum in the finest performance of his male-mannequin career.
James always tries too hard, but Vaughn picks his moments to turn it up and blow it out. Connelly brings a sensitive touch. But Ryder, giving her unfaithful wife more of an edge than the namby-pamby script calls for, reminds us, in a single funny-poignant scene, what she's capable of. She's so good, she left Howard with a real dilemma — how not to make this movie totally about her and how not to see everything from her point of view. The evidence from The Dilemma is that he never does work that.