REVIEW: The Dilemma

12 01 2011

The whole premise of deciding whether or not to tell a friend that their wife is cheating on them sounds like something that would make a good episode of “Full House” or “Everybody Loves Raymond.”  The whole thought process is something perfectly suited to sustain a 22-minute sitcom episode.  However, “The Dilemma” takes that setup and stretches it out to nearly two hours, and all it does is prolong the pain.

Ronny (Vince Vaughn) catches Geneva (Winona Ryder) two-timing her husband and his best friend Nick (Kevin James).  Unsure of whether to meddle or not, he weighs his options carefully but finds physical pain instead of answers and decisions.  The choice is harder to make since the two buddies are business partners under a great deal of stress to deliver big and Ronny is also wrestling with proposing to his girlfiend Beth (Jennifer Connelly).

The longer he delays, the harder it gets to make the decision.  It ultimately results in all four parties revealing and uncovering long-held secrets, which are of course nothing surprising or profound to viewers.  For this reason, “The Dilemma” is quite a bit darker and more solemn than most comedies hitting theaters nowadays.  Perhaps the strange tone is what attracted Ron Howard to direct the film, an Academy Award winner with a curious fascination at having a versatile resumé.  He’s much better at directing such unremarkable and controlled period pieces, where he’s actually capable of making a decent connection with the audience, than he is at directing comedy.

Both Vaughn and James bring a game face to the movie, but their physical and vocal humor is ultimately stifled by an artificial layer of dramatic importance and a poor script.  They get into it, sure, yet they are undermined by either poor dialogue or ridiculous situations.  It’s like these two dynamite comedic forces are trapped in sitcom reruns and aren’t sure whether to escape or adjust their acting style.  The duo desperately needs to return to the R-rated comedy genre which is perfectly able to harness their energy and turn it into side-splitting laughter.  (And, for that matter, Channing Tatum needs to leave acting altogether and just go back to modeling.)

It’s pretty sad for any movie when its legacy will ultimately be not what’s on film, but the fuss over an unsavory epithet for homosexuals in the trailer will likely be the only thing worth remembering about the movie in the years to come.  Ron Howard and Universal gave us a conversation topic in October 2010, yet in January 2011, they didn’t follow up by delivering a quality movie.  By the time you escape from the tepid grasp of “The Dilemma,” you’ll feel as if you’ve watched a highlight reel of failed jokes and cringe-worthy moments.  C-





REVIEW: Grown Ups

19 07 2010

In “Grown Ups,” Adam Sandler and friends have three stages: childish, adolescently juvenile, and grown up.

When they are childish, the movie is old and trite.  We’ve seen all the bathroom humor, boob humor, fat humor, hot girl humor, and racial humor Sandler can throw at us.  It was funny in the ’90s whenever movies like “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore” were rocking the comedy scene.  But Sandler hasn’t changed his game much since then, and it’s time to move on from the silly and stupid just to get a quick laugh.  In fact, I usually just groan now.

When they are adolescently juvenile, the movie takes flight.  I assume that a lot of this is outside the lines, improvisational stuff.  I felt like I was watching them brainstorming one-liners for SNL in the writer’s room.  It’s like they are reaching out and including us in these creative sessions as they just rattle off joke after joke.  They have some clever wordplay and witty situations when they are at this level, and it’s where they should dwell more often.

When they are grown up, the movie is corny and laughable.  There’s that obligatory “oh, we’ve been joking the whole time, let’s grow up quickly and have a lesson” scene towards the end that derails all the comedic momentum the movie built up.  And this one is so bad and so out of place I can only hope Sandler and pals meant it to play off as a giant joke.

All comics are not created equal, as the movie shows us.  Sandler writes the best for himself, making he and his wife, played by the gorgeous and incredibly out of place Salma Hayek, the only normal ones.  Compared to him, the successful Hollywood agent, we are supposed to assume that everyone else is a loser in comparison to him.  There’s the Mr. Mom played by Chris Rock, the obese therefore butt of jokes played by Kevin James, the creepy bachelor played by David Spade, and the just plain creeper played by Rob Schneider.  Spade’s bits are stale, Rock is fair, Chris Farley’s doppleganger James is good enough not to make us yearn for the late star, and Schneider is as good as he’s ever been – which is to say that he wasn’t funny then and he’s not funny now.

So in the end, it’s that creative spark that comes from just reeling off one-liners and playing off each other that saves the movie from being a total disaster.  It’s that more refined immaturity that we don’t get nearly enough of that keeps us coming back to Sandler’s movies.  Because we don’t want Adam Sandler to grow up so much as just move on.  C /