By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 13, 2011 at 4:02AM
What was Ron Howard thinking? Did this popular A-list Oscar-winning director really want to make a lowbrow comedy that could be summed up in the following tweet from @giteshpandya:
9:24pm via Web
Dilemma: Low on laughs but should sell to fans of formulaic buddy & relationship comedies. Could use some trimming. #mtrv
The secret to figuring out how Howard lost control of this movie is Vince Vaughn's producing credit. And the fact that Imagine Entertainment has high overhead at Universal and Howard and partner/producer Brian Grazer needed to deliver the studio a movie. Howard's two biggest hits lately, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, were for Sony. And Howard's non-franchise movies have stumbled lately--Frost/Nixon earned rave reviews and five Oscar nominations but no wins, and it never made back its marketing costs.
(A round-up of the film's early reviews and the trailer are after the jump.)
Howard has always balanced commercial hits with disappointments like Cinderella Man and The Missing, a lovely western starring Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett. He entered the Oscar circle, winning best picture and directing Oscars for A Beautiful Mind, after having missed a directing Oscar nomination for Apollo 13, which earned nine nominations and won two.
How are the mighty fallen. The unavoidably second-rate The Dilemma is tracking well behind Martin Luther King weekend rival The Green Hornet. Howard is at the top of the Hollywood food chain. This is the best gig he could get?
The Dilemma, an expensive comedy at $75 million, is crammed with folks who seem to belong in different movies. There are glimmers of what a better film this could have been. It all starts promisingly enough as Vaughn and buddy Kevin James are trying to land a deal to supply a vibrating electric engine to a major car company. The picture goes south when Vaughn, who is gearing up to propose to Jennifer Connelly, sees his best friend's wife (Winona Ryder) passionately kissing another man. Suddenly a likable guy goes completely bonkers, and it isn't funny.
When Vaughn is creeping up to spy on Ryder's dalliance with a tattooed young hunk (Channing Tatum), he can't compare with how hilarious Alec Baldwin was in It's Complicated. Tatum charmingly steals his scenes with Vaughn, revealing how limited the actor is. And James, who broke out with Paul Blart: Mall Cop, is also functioning in a narrow range. Definitely aimed at males, the movie is quite misogynistic: Connelly, Ryder and Queen Latifah are wasted in thankless supporting roles. Which helps to explain why a Ron Howard movie came to open in January.
"With or without the 'electric cars are gay' joke that made its trailer a subject of controversy last fall, The Dilemma is not a particularly funny movie. Indeed, the true dilemma of this misguided seriocomedy lies in the filmmakers' confusion as to whether they're making a side-splitting bromance (nope) or an unsparing, warts-and-all look at screwed-up relationships (sort of). Vince Vaughn's reliable motor-mouth antics should appeal to a stream of mid-January laugh seekers, but overall audience reaction looks to be as muddled as the picture itself; electric cars aside, this Universal release is one strange hybrid."
"There is nothing particularly funny about the scene that found its way into the trailer for Ron Howard's "The Dilemma" last fall where the word "gay" was used as a pejorative. As it turns out, this is all too typical of the movie itself, whose makers seems oblivious to the fact they're trying extra hard to find humor in things that just aren't funny."
"[The] uncertainty — “Wait, is that supposed to be funny?” — makes the movie an unsatisfying if often surprising experience, a less warm and fuzzy Parenthood from a director long removed from his warn and fuzzy years…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. And then there’s [Channing] Tatum…in the finest performance of his male mannequin career…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 as an actress. 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."
"How long can Vince Vaughn keep coasting on his motor-mouth riffing? It stopped being funny several films ago. Or maybe it’s that his ability to choose scripts strong enough to support that kind of endless riffing disappeared several years ago. What we’re left with is a movie as slack and slow-moving as The Dilemma, opening Friday, a film that further diminishes whatever weight might have been carried by the phrase 'Oscar-winning director Ron Howard'…Unfortunately, Howard and writer Allan Loeb don’t know how to turn a classic farce set-up into an actual farce…it rarely produces anything resembling a truly funny moment…[Vaughn] goes all wide-eyed and starts talking – and for some reason, Howard just lets him talk, despite the fact that he would need a GPS to guide him back to a punchline or even a salient point…The Dilemma suffers from the mistaken impression that it’s a comedy. Instead, it’s merely a template for comedy, handed to a group of people who obviously had no idea what to do with it."