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Mashed Potato

By Dustin Rowles | Film | January 14, 2011 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | January 14, 2011 |

The best thing about The Dilemma is Channing Tatum. That’s how bad The Dilemma is, folks. Everyone in this film is upstaged by Charming Potato. Pro Tip: When you find yourself looking forward to the next scene featuring a fucking spud, you know you’re having a bad movie experience.

The Dilemma is a comedy in the same way that another Vince Vaughn movie, The Break-Up, was a comedy, which is to say: The four or five dimly humorous moments in the film are highlighted in the trailer and it’s sold as a comedy. Really, though, it’s more of a relationship drama with a few stabs at humor. But unlike The Break-Up, which wasn’t a very good movie but still managed to hit a few notes about the disintegration of a relationship that rang true, nothing rings true in The Dilemma.

The “Bro Code” is a movie construct, people. It’s not real. When a woman cheats on a husband, the central dynamic there is between the man and his cheating wife. The focus is never on the best friend who knew about it and tortured himself about whether to tell the wronged husband. Let’s be honest: In the real world, he keeps that shit to himself. It’s not his business. Let the other guy find out. And if he finds out that you knew before him, chances are, he’s going to be too distraught over the fact that his wife is fucking a potato to really care that much about whether you knew.

But The Dilemma takes that mental sideshow and blows it up large. Two excruciating hours large. And because Ron Howard is a Serious Director with Oscar Nominations™, he’s not the kind of guy who is going to resort to cheap gags. If there was ever a movie that could use a cheap gag or seven, it’s The Dilemma. Granted, it’s nice to see Kevin James in a role that’s not about his ability to sweat profusely, do a goofy dance, or knock someone over with his gut, but any of that might have been a welcome respite from Howard’s tedious attempts to give dimension to his high concept.

A “high concept,” by its very definition, is “an artistic work that can be easily described by a succinctly stated premise.” Audiences simply accept high concepts and brace for the (usually bad) comedy that grows out of them. But the more you dwell upon the nature of the high concept, the more you expose the flimsiness of the premise.

Here, Ron Howard is so focused upon making his high concept believable that he completely forgets about the comedy that’s supposed to flow out of it. The end result is a belabored relationship drama that rests on this weak premise: Ronny (Vince Vaughn) catches the wife (Winona Ryder) of his best friend (Kevin James) sleeping with another man (The Potato) and spends the rest of the film wrestling with whether to tell him. There are a couple of other factors in play: The best friend, Nick, is under a deadline to build an electric engine that works beneath the frame of a Dodge muscle car and the wife, Geneva, also insists that there are much bigger problems in their marriage besides the fact that she’s sleeping with a potato. The other element at play is that Ronny is also working toward asking his long-term girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly), to marry him, but he won’t tell her about the issue he’s facing with his best friend, so naturally she thinks he’s gambling.

That last strand of the plot tells you exactly how far-fetched the premise is: What person saddled with someone else’s secret doesn’t immediately tell their partner? There is an understanding with most couples, right? If one partner knows, so does the other. If given a salacious bit of gossip, the first person I’m always going to tell is my wife. That’s the nature of relationships.

But screenwriter Allan Loeb doesn’t understand relationships because Allan Loeb (The Switch, the upcoming Miley Cyrus spy comedy, I’m, Like, So Undercover) doesn’t understand anything except how to collect a paycheck. Good comedy comes from an honest place, and Allan Loeb wouldn’t know an honest place if it crushed his fat fucking head. I’m just surprised that Howard — who can recognize comedy enough to produce “Sports Night” and “Arrested Development” — even got involved in this in the first place. It’s a waste of his mediocre directing talents, a waste of a decent cast, a wasted opportunity for Winona Ryder to show us what she’s still got, and most criminal of all, a waste of a perfectly good potato.

Vince Vaughn Career Assessment | Daddy Got the Rainman Suite & He Sh*t All Over It | Hanging on in Quiet Desperation is the American Way | Survivor Jumps All the Sharks

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.