There are several problems in “The Dilemma,” a romantic comedy about a guy struggling with a secret.
For starters, there’s the one to which the title refers.
Vince Vaughn plays Ronnie, an automobile designer in partnership with his longtime friend, insecure engineering whiz Nick (Kevin James from TV’s “King of Queens”). Just as they’re about to land a big, life-altering Detroit contract with their revolutionary idea---an electric auto that “roars” like a muscle car---Ronnie sees Nick’s wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), in a passionate lip-lock with another man.
Should Ronnie tell the overworked, already stressed, blissfully clueless Nick, most certainly torpedoing their project in the process with the emotional devastation it would bring? Or should he keep his mouth shut, at least until their deal is sealed?
And Ronnie’s got other problems, too. He’s feeling the pinch to put a ring on the finger of his restauranteer girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly), who has trust issues stemming from Ronnie’s gambling problem---and who happens to be best friends with Geneva.
Needless to say, numerous complications arise, and most of the movie involves Ronnie flailing around in the mess his “dilemma” makes of everything.
Another movie might have gotten some real traction with this idea, but “The Dilemma” never settles into a groove, skidding recklessly between broad slapstick and deeper, darker, relationship psychodrama, especially when a confronted, cornered Geneva starts spilling some secrets of her own.
Director Ron Howard, usually a surer touch behind the camera, seems out of his element here, unable to bring anything into clear comedic focus. And it’s a problem when your supporting players---Queen Latifah as a brassy Detroit auto exec, and Channing Tatum as the hunky, tattooed object of Geneva’s affections---are far more colorful and interesting than any of your leads.
The movie also seems to be courting two very different audiences: guys who want a jokey buddy comedy built around cars and sports, and gals who’ll hopefully relate to the serious romantic issue the plot raises: just how well can you ever truly know someone, even your lover or your husband?
But men will likely think it’s lame and too tame, and women will be turned off by the lack of any female character to which they’ll want to relate. Connelly’s character, Gina, comes closest, but she’s relegated to a sideline role, mostly unnecessary to the story, and eventually benched completely.
By the time everything gets wraps up with a preposterously tidy bromantic bow, Ronnie’s dilemma is over---and, thankfully, so is this halfhearted, misguided stab at romantic comedy.