How could a nice guy like Ron Howard make a movie as mean-spirited as this one? He’s made edgy and violent movies before, but they weren’t comedies and this allegedly is. It stars Vince Vaughn as a mover and shaker in the automotive industry who finds out that his best friend’s wife (Winona Ryder) is being unfaithful; he needs to break the news to his pal (Kevin James) and commit to marrying his own lovely girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) but his hang-up over discovering the infidelity becomes an obsession. Remember The Break-Up, another Vaughn vehicle that was supposed to be fun but turned into an ugly, depressing, yell-a-thon? This is The Break-Up II.
There’s a reason a new film from Howard—who normally makes event movies like Backdraft and Apollo 13—is being dumped into the cinematic graveyard that is January. As hard as Vaughn and the cast try, the material lets them down. James still can’t find a role as good as his scene-stealing work in Hitch, Ryder deserves much better than the wicked girlfriend role (was Shannen Doherty too busy?) and Connelly must feel she owed Howard a favor after winning an Oscar in his A Beautiful Mind.
There’s a scene where Vaughn gives a woefully inappropriate toast at a party. It’s vintage Vaughn and the movie’s funniest moment, but like everything else it’s ruined by the pervasive sourness. There’s a way to make anything—including infidelity and sexual secrets—funny, but apparently nobody told the makers of The Dilemma, who opt for tone-deaf nastiness at every turn.
The film became controversial last year when a snarky scene with the word “gay” was cut from the trailer following reports of homosexual teen suicides. The scene is still in the movie and Howard has defended keeping it, saying he understands the sensitivity of the issue but refuses to censor himself. He’s absolutely right in theory—but I wish he would have picked a better battle. With this flop—literally the worst movie Howard has ever made—self-censorship is the least of his problems.