Need to know, or let it go?
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, January 14, 2010
Although the Judd Apatow brigade appears to have cornered the market on the bromance genre, Jonah Hill was a mere middle-schooler and Paul Rudd was wooing Alicia Silverstone in "Clueless" when Vince Vaughn began honing his craft, assuring Jon Favreau, "you're so money, and you don't even know it."
Alas, while Vaughn proves he's still got the fast-talking bravado that makes him so bewilderingly watchable, neither his quick wit nor his chemistry with Kevin James can transform "The Dilemma" into the gold standard of buddy comedies.
The titular conundrum arises when Ronny Valentine (Vaughn) discovers his best friend's wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), canoodling with Zip, played by Channing Tatum, a muscular, tattooed man-child, whose sense of humor consists of air guitar and what can only be described as air humping. What's Ronny to do: tell his friend Nick or keep mum?
Pelvic thrusts aside, there's something potentially poignant here. Early in the movie, Ronny says of Nick and Geneva, "when it comes to being a couple, they're my heroes." The type of disillusionment that follows the all-too-common "but they seemed so happy" is both widespread and timely (think Al and Tipper Gore). And despite his soulless comedies like "Dodgeball" and "Couples Retreat," Vaughn is capable of balancing his showy brand of comedy with something more thoughtful (see "Swingers," above).
But two things work against him, the first of which is a cluttered plot that becomes increasingly outrageous. Ronny and Nick are also business partners, and they're under the gun, working on a make-it-or-break-it presentation that could launch their careers; Ronny is considering proposing to his perfect girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly); Geneva and Ronny have a history, about which Nick is clueless. Did I mention that Ronny also has a gambling problem? And Nick is that fragile, nervous type defined primarily by bleeding ulcers? True, when it rains it pours, but all these developments (and many more) get tiring after a while.
Speaking of less being more, Vaughn is the film equivalent of a well-known novelist that no longer gets a good edit. He has the charismatic salesguy shtick down, but he needs a director who can rein him in, and maybe Ron Howard, nice guy that he appears to be, isn't the man for the job. Vaughn has a tendency to veer into over-the-top territory - say, when he confronts Zip, screaming like a banshee or makes an unbelievable, awkward and mean-spirited toast during Beth's parents' 40th anniversary party.
You have to give Vaughn points for effort, though. After playing the same role so many times, he could probably just phone it in. He seems to work hard both at crafting funny dialogue and playing off his co-stars. And while none of that leads to anything beyond straightforward comedy, at least it's good for a laugh.
Contains some violence, language, the irritating misuse of the word "gay" and an illicit sexual encounter that features a bare behind tattooed with a happy face.