Leaving a screening of The Dilemma, a friend sitting several rows away caught up with me, and asked if the film we just saw would likely make my list of the year's worst movies. I can't tell you how much I'm hoping it will, because if not, 2011 is going to be positively excruciating.
Because it's being distributed in mid-January despite having acclaimed director Ron Howard at the helm (even if prefacing "director Ron Howard" with "acclaimed" always makes me giggle a little), you'd be right in presuming that this bro-mantic comedy with Vince Vaughn and Kevin James must be a real dog. Yet while I certainly endured worse over the past 12 months, I can't think of the last movie I sat through that, from scene to scene, was as achingly confused and tonally off as The Dilemma; not only is Howard's latest unfunny, but it's freakishly difficult to determine when the film is trying to be funny.
Given the omnipresent, and disgracefully misleading, trailers, I'm guessing you know the hook: Vaughn discovers that the wife of BFF James is being unfaithful, and endures a crisis of conscience (plus numerous slapstick mishaps) while deciding whether to break the bad news to his chum. It's a perfectly acceptable, if tired, formula, but in agreeing to direct Allan Loeb's comic screenplay, did Howard somehow think he was actually remaking Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage? One sequence after another climaxes with Vaughn so burdened by the weight of the betrayal that he either explodes with vociferous anger or nearly collapses in sobs, and these bursts of emotion are grossly incongruous with the script's easy jokes and sitcom contrivances; during one scene of a tearful Vaughn praying for guidance while sitting at a bus stop, you almost want to hide your face in embarrassment.
Movie audiences are frequently asked to laugh at characters' pain, as some do during Vaughn's "riotous" encounter with poisonous flora (and, as ever, Ron's brother Clint). Howard, however, asks you to weep for poor, tortured Vaughn, and for poor, clueless James, and for the toll that the titular dilemma is taking on their friendship, and the misguided sincerity of it all is tough to stomach. Similar errors of judgment are made with the divinely beautiful Jennifer Connelly, who portrays Vaughn's girlfriend as if re-auditioning for Howard's A Beautiful Mind, and with Amy Morton, whose role as Vaughn's sister comes off as almost staggeringly misconceived. (Her introduction - in which she completely misinterprets her brother's phone call - should be played for broad laughs, but is instead directed as if out of O'Neill.) Even Channing Tatum, in a beyond-senseless part, falls victim to the soul-crushing earnestness; his game, physically witty turn as the heavily tattooed Other Man is eventually sacrificed to moist-eyed melancholy. I entered The Dilemma half-happy that Ron Howard was taking a break from the weighty works he's been foisting on us of late, but it appears that the man might now be incapable of directing without potential Oscars dancing in his head.
Only Winona Ryder, as James' wife, manages to wholly transcend the film. Giving a fiercely honest, incisive performance that hints at just what we've been missing in the decade since Ryder fell out of public favor, the actress has a couple of scenes with Vaughn that are remarkable for their artless rawness and emotional complexity; playing the movie's most unsympathetic character, Ryder was the only one here I really liked. (I wanted to applaud the diner scene in which she demanded that Vaughn mind his own business, as the force of her incensed dignity actually made him briefly stop his incessant nattering.) Ryder aside, though, The Dilemma is an unholy mess, and a worse one for luring crowds with the suggestion of hilarity while delivering practically nothing but schmaltz. The movie may concern adultery, but it's the film's promotion that's the real cheat.
THE GREEN HORNET
Portraying the title character in The Green Hornet, Seth Rogen is aggressively irritating. Granted, nearly everything about director Michel Gondry's action comedy is: the smart-ass, self-referential humor that continually shoves its faux cleverness down your throat; the tedious "irony" of Rogen's masked anti-hero being constantly one-upped by assistant Kato (Jay Chou); the depressing waste of supporting talents - Christoph Waltz, Cameron Diaz, Edward James Olmos, David Harbour, Tom Wilkinson - who look miserably ashamed to be there. (Only James Franco, in an early, amusing cameo, looks to be having any fun.) But it's Rogen, who co-scripted with Superbad collaborator Evan Goldberg, that single-handedly turns what should've been routinely uninspired wannabe-blockbuster noise into an experience that borders on the unwatchable, or at least unlistenable. Barking his lines with absolutely no variance or authority, the actor's frat-boy antics and hissy-fit petulance are unwaveringly monotonous here, and the ear-splitting mayhem on the soundtrack just forces Rogen to bellow all the louder; he's the first crime-fighter who could conceivably get villains to surrender just by threatening to read them their Miranda rights.