The pejorative use of the word "gay" that got The Dilemma in hot water is still in the movie, and stands as one of its funnier lines.
Not that there's anything right about that.
Because despite the best effort of that protested preview trailer — and cleaned-up versions that followed — to peg The Dilemma as a rollicking comedy, it isn't.
Sure, it stars Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, who are usually good for a few laughs and make that quotient here. But those trailers focus on the film's first reel, before the rascals Vaughn and James find all kinds of reasons to get serious. They cling to the shticks that got them this far in show biz — the blowhard and the chunky buddy — yet the situations surrounding them make laughing akin to sniggering at a car wreck.
There are truly destructive issues at work in Ron Howard's movie; of adultery and addiction, secrets and lies among loved ones, and violence as ugly as the climactic fist fight in The Paper, another Howard "comedy" that didn't click. Of course, any of these conflicts could be settled by anyone telling anyone else the truth, like the friends they purport to be. But nobody would pay full price to view a 20-minute movie.
Ronny (Vaughn) and Nick (James) are longtime pals and partners in an automotive engineering company, designing an electric muscle car (because current eco-friendly models are "gay," in Ronny's unfortunate wording). On the eve of their big presentation to Chrysler, Ronny spies Nick's wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) making out with a younger man.
Should Ronny tell Nick what he knows, even if it sends his dyspeptic friend into a funk that could ruin their deal? The Dilemma might be an amusing bedroom/boardroom farce if screenwriter Allan Loeb stuck to that angle. But he's intent on giving each character in The Dilemma something to hide, most of which make these people quite unattractive. Sordid massage parlors, drug and gambling addictions — and the angst involved when they're addressed — aren't the path to moviegoers' hearts.
By the time Ronny's girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly) arranges an intervention that explodes into everyone's true confessions, The Dilemma has squandered the goodwill engendered by its stars. This isn't the movie we paid to see, or one that we would pay for if we knew what was planned.
It's enough to make Howard's final reel lunge for a happy ending ring hollow. And in the time it takes for end credits to roll we don't care any more that Ryder proves she still possesses acting chops, or that Channing Tatum as her lover displays more than chiseled cheekbones. Or, that when it isn't trying to be funny The Dilemma is a fairly successful drama. And there's something wrong with that.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.