The titular poser of The Dilemma is pretty simple to lay out: if you find out that your best friend’s wife is cheating on him, do you tell him or not? I think everyone has a knee-jerk reaction on this — not all the same one, mind you — and it’s an interesting one for armchair ethicists to mull over. But director Ron Howard and writer Allan Loeb don’t really explore it as much as you might expect.
Ronny Valentine (Vince Vaughn) and Nick Brannen (Kevin James) have been friends since college. They work together in a small business designing a real MacGuffin of an engine module for cars, and they’re trying to sell it to Dodge. Ronny is the smooth-talking salesman, and Nick is the engineering brain of the company. Nick is married to Geneva (Winona Ryder), while Ronny has been dating her friend Beth (Jennifer Connelly) for some time now without an engagement in sight yet.
But Ronny, encouraged by the prospects of the Dodge deal is planning to propose, though he wants it to be perfect. He even scouts out a botanical garden as a possible place to orchestrate the question. And it’s there that he witnesses a tryst between Geneva and a young, tattooed hunk (Channing Tatum). Obviously he has to decide whether to tell his friend or not.
But what, exactly, is his dilemma? On the one hand, Nick deserves to know, and to be able to act on that knowledge. On the other, the knowledge may hurt Nick, and it may be better that he find out on his own. But Ronny’s first concern is actually for himself: will being the messenger ruin a friendship that’s lasted half his life?
It’s never seriously considered that Ronny won’t tell Nick. The only question is how he can tell Nick and protect himself. And the movie throws one hazard after another that he’ll have to dodge or defend himself against. Nick’s stress level over the Dodge deal is high, so adding to it might compromise their success; Geneva might lie to paint Ronny as the offender; the situation may be spun to convince Beth that Ronny’s gambling addiction has relapsed; and so on.
The real effect of all of these setups is to give Vaughn a bunch of excuses to act really over-the-top. And that, it seems, is really the point of the movie. Nick isn’t nearly as important as Ronny is, and Beth and Geneva are basically incidental when it comes right down to it. Connelly and Ryder’s considerable talents are absolutely wasted, and James’ are too, to a large extent. And Queen Latifah inexplicably shows up in a pointless minor role which manages to waste her too.
This is a rare false note from Allan Loeb. It’s hard to square this lopsided, off-key script with the man who wrote The Switch and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. But if Rob Reiner can have his North, then I guess Loeb can have his Dilemma.
Worth it: not really, unless you’re a huge Vince Vaughn fan.
Bechdel test: fail.