Someone famous once had the wit to say that all publicity is good publicity, but where Vince Vaughns latest effort The Dilemma is concerned that may have seemed a little on the optimistic side. When the first trailer was finally released its entire attempt at creating some semblance of what the film was vaguely about was torpedoed by a single line from Mr Vaughn implying that a certain automotive product was well, less than straight. The fact that the scene in question is more buffoonish than prejudiced didnt matter. To the offended masses any plot that could be gleaned from the two minute window was lost, barricaded off, buried beneath a mountain of indignant emails. Ok, perhaps masses and mountains is overplaying it a little, but you get what I mean. Starting on the back foot is never a good business plan. And to a fair degree that is an actual shame because The Dilemma is by no means a comedy failure; in fact its not really a comedy at all, but what it pains me to call, a dramedy. With slapstick. And Winona Ryder.. Ironically, its trailer, behind its fug of a red-button, single line of dialogue, serves as a fair approximation of the whole. You only have to look at the cast of Vaughn, Ryder, Jennifer Connelly, Channing Tatum, Queen Latifah, and Kevin James to book the movie shrink for a suspected case of multiple personality disorder. Lifelong buddies Ronny Valentine (Vaughn) and Nick Brannen (James) run an independent, automotive engineering firm amongst the bright lights of Chicago, and in a nicely responsible touch of environmental consciousness theyve developed a ground-breaking electrical engine that sounds like a Detroit muscle-car. Its their big break, their holy grail if they can just get Dodge to buy in. James, playing against type as a fat guy with relationship issues, is the technical genius and a seemingly fragile one to boot, so naturally what Vaughn doesnt need is anything to come along and rock the boat, but thats exactly what happens when in an attempt to set-up a romantic proposal for his own gal Beth (Connelly), he spies his friends long-time other half Geneva (Ryder) getting smoochy with a bo-hunk musician (Tatum). Needless to say the obvious and direct route of telling your best friend whats going on is not on the cards as Vaughn careens from one emotionally, and physically, painful decision to another in an attempt to keep his business, domestic life, and his own sanity, on an even keel. All of it compounded by the deliberate machinations, misunderstandings, and just plain contrariness of everyone else. Admittedly that doesnt sound remotely funny, but this is a Ron Howard film so there was never really going to be a straightforward fun-time had by all. Just put yourself through Parenthood, or the unfortunate faux-pas of Apollo 13 and youll see what I mean. The attractions of The Dilemma to Howard are fairly plain to see, giving him a chance to get off the straight and obvious cookie-cutter of the multiplex and try and create a deliberately off-balance acerbic comedy; and after all, he isnt a complete stranger to the funny-side, Splash being one of the 80s guilty pleasures. The problem here though is, as Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah gave Splash its goofy charm, The Dilemma seems to put most of its comedic reliance on the alarmingly large combination of Vaughn and James (and I mean large combination) to stop the entire production becoming an overwrought drama by Paul Haggis. Vaughn, all desperation, venal wit, and the occasional fisticuffs, stumbles through like a man suddenly waking up in a parallel universe. I cant bring myself to use the word engaging, but no-one does the everyone else is crazy shtick and the free-form ramble quite like him. Even the most ardent Vaughn hater is going to suffer a crack-up during the party speech. James on the other hand seems to be in situ just to provide some good will, a reminder to the audience that hes been amusing in something else so play nice. He does draw the short straw, but against Vaughns apparent ego that is hardly a surprise. He is the sad-sack prize being played between his friend, and his wife. Ryder as the unfaithful Mrs, and Connelly as Vaughns confused, and concerned other half are the dramatic imperatives and so playing second fiddle to the men of the piece (Im not sure Connellys even allowed a last name), but they inhabit their roles to the best of their not inconsiderable abilities. Ryder never once begging us for sympathy, and Connelly getting it all with ease. You can imagine Connelly in particular shutting out the crack-pot craziness and channelling The Dilemmas schizophrenia in to a literally different movie. Perhaps the one standout though, surprisingly in a Vaughn vehicle, is the unexpected comedic charm of Tatum. Playing directly to type as the good-looking dim-bulb, he manages to be both likeable and mischievous in equal measure. You almost feel hes been taken advantage of more than his lovers cuckolded other half. If the outcome of The Dilemmas somewhat clunky, but not entirely unenjoyable mash-up is seeing Tatum doing more of the fun stuff, and less Hasbro, Ill take that as a positive. The Dilemma is released in the U.K. on Friday.
Film writer, drinker of Guinness. Part-time astronaut. Man who thinks there are only two real Indiana Jones movies, writing loglines should be an Olympic event, and that science fiction, comic book movies, 007, and Hal Hartley's Simple Men are the cures for most evils. Currently scripting.