Here's the dilemma this movie wants to present: Should Vince Vaughn tell Kevin James that James’s wife is cheating on him? But here’s the question that’s actually raised by this movie: How did Ron Howard ever get attached to such a train wreck? Howard’s track record as a director has been hit-and-miss — though he has made at least two of the best movies ever, Splash and Apollo 13 — but never this deeply, disturbingly “miss.”
As played by Vaughn (Couples Retreat, Four Christmases), Ronny Valentine is a “selfish little asshole” who doesn’t appear to have cared a whit about anyone ever. Now, however, we’re meant to understand that he’s all torn up over whether to reveal the instance of cuckolding he accidentally witnessed — and then learned even more about when he, enraged on behalf of his friend, investigates further. Creepy stalkerish stuff gives way to creepy blackmail attempts, as Ronny tries to force (Winona Ryder) to confess to Nick (James) that she’s been cheating with young dumb buff Channing Tatum (Dear John, G.I. Joe).
None of this is funny, and indeed seems mostly designed, by screenwriter Allan Loeb — who also wrote the astonishingly terrible The Switch — to highlight Geneva as a “sick and twisted” manipulative liar. The movie doesn’t actually wonder out loud what else one should expect from women, but the only other woman we get much exposure to here is Jennifer Connelly (Creation, 9) — a sweet, patient, tolerant mate to Vaughn, who puts up with all his nonsense and loves him all the more because of it. If only Geneva could have been so indulgent of her man’s issues!
A movie less dumb and more self-aware than this one (even slightly) might have acknowledged that Vaughn’s “dilemma” is merely another act of selfishness — he wants to unburden himself of some unpleasant knowledge. Instead, his quandary simply underscores the film’s unintentional theme: men who are terrified of appearing unmanly. (If Vaughn was capable of confronting tough emotional issues or could communicate with his supposed closest friend about the complications of marriage, there’d be no movie at all.)
In a subplot about how “electric cars are gay,” Vaughn and James develop systems that make quiet hybrid vehicles roar and rattle like 1960s muscle cars. (They’re such manly men.) The film reeks of male anxiety about the horror of being seen as a man whose wife cheats on him. (They’re manly men who act like scared kittens.)
Watching The Dilemma — which seems to have no real purpose at all — is like being in a kindergarten full of 40-year-old children. Even people who actually like stupid movies are going to hate it.