Kristen Wiig plays a character on “Saturday Night Live” that can’t keep a secret. Man, could this movie have used her. The story for “The Dilemma” hinges almost entirely on people not talking to each other, running on what our colleague John Paulsen has astutely dubbed manufactured conflict. One simple sentence could clear up this movie in 20 minutes, or even better, open up doors to newer, more realistic, and potentially funnier outcomes. But not this movie: this is the Johnny Tightlips of comedies, and it will bleed to death before it tells anyone where it’s been shot.
Ronny Valentine (Vince Vaughn) and Nick Brannen (Kevin James) run a Chicago auto parts shop that is looking to secure a lucrative deal with General Motors, but Nick, the technical wizard of the bunch, is severely stressed about being able to deliver what they’ve promised. When Ronny is scouting locations to propose to his girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly), he stumbles upon Nick’s wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) in the arms of a tattooed dirtbag (Channing Tatum). He wants to tell Nick what’s going on, but is afraid that doing so will prevent him from delivering on the GM deal, not to mention break his heart. When Ronny presses Geneva to come clean, she uses Ronny’s sordid past as a means to buy his silence. Beth, meanwhile, sees Ronny acting strangely, and suspects he might be gambling again.
Infidelity, addiction, blackmail, betrayal: sounds like a laugh riot, right? To be fair, “The Dilemma” might have worked as a black comedy in the hands of someone like John Dahl – his 1993 movie “Red Rock West” frequently came to mind while watching this, for reasons I can’t divulge – and it even might have worked as the broad comedy it’s supposed to be, had they not muzzled three of the four leads. As it is, Vaughn does approximately 80% of the talking, as if that’s been a good idea in any movie he’s made since “Wedding Crashers” (just try not to wince when he starts tapping his glass with a fork at an anniversary party), and the rest of the jokes are supposed to come from Tatum (he’s a sensitive oxycontin junkie!) and Queen Latifah’s overly enthusiastic GM executive (she talks like a guy, all horny and stuff!). It feels like it was created by a script generator that tried to repackage James Franco’s sympathetic drug dealer from “Pineapple Express” and Jane Lynch’s saleswoman in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” for a PG-13 audience. It doesn’t gel, and it isn’t funny. It also tricks the audience into believing a lie up front for the rest of the movie to work. It’s all just a long con, and an overlong one at that, by a good 25 minutes.
The idea behind “The Dilemma” has potential, but nearly everything about its execution is off. Granted, it’s been over a decade since Ron Howard directed a comedy – and, ahem, two decades since he directed a good one – but you have to think that even he knew this wasn’t working, and no amount of Vaughn’s restless chatter was going to change that. Vaughn, meanwhile, is now six years removed from his last good movie. Time for a come-to-Jesus chat with the agent, Trent.(2 / 5)