Your Weekend Celebrating the Legacy of MLK Jr by Seeing Movies Like The Dilemma

01/14/2011 8:57 AM |

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The Green Hornet: As misbegotten as the idea of Michel Gondry directing a long-in-development superhero movie that people seem to want to make simply because it’s been up for grabs for so long might sound, it does one very important thing to Gondry’s work: it gives him additional screenwriters. Normally, I resist the idea that writer-directors doing below-peak work ought to direct someone else’s screenplay; I’d prefer that they, you know, just write better screenplays themselves. But Gondry’s writing feels as inessential as his ideas (visual and thematic) are inspired; I liked Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind both quite a bit, but I don’t think it’s an accident that he had a better writer on his near-instant classic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Green Hornet pairs him with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, whose wonderful Superbad was far more script-centric affair than it may have seemed (check out the DVD extra featuring a table read four or five years before the movie was in production; some scenes that sound like improv are nearly line-for-line the same). Green Hornet looks more like Pineapple Express—two distinct sensibilities, both trying out an unfamiliar-to-them genre—and probably won’t be as idiosyncratic, but if anyone can make second-to-third-tier superhero shtick seem like fun again, it’s Gondry and Rogen (I hope). [The Pineapple Express comp is very apropos for this Rogen-Goldberg-Indie Auteur team-up/genre-movie romper room. Although keep in mind, Jesse, that I found Pineapple Express to be much shoddier and much less self-aware than you did. (I suppose, given that, it's entirely possible that you'll detect more inspiration than I did in this one, too.) -Ed.]

The Dilemma: To someone’s credit, Ron Howard’s I guess, The Dilemma is less dopey and more thoughtful than it looks from its trailers, which got some press for being recut to exclude an opening gambit explaining that “electric cars are gay.” You know, not gay as in homosexual. Gay as in stupid. I wonder how that completely separate and unrelated usage came about? That bit is still in the movie, and no funnier nor less stupid (you know, not stupid as in gay, but stupid as in actually fucking stupid) for greater context, but the rest of The Dilemma endeavors to actually explore the weakening psychology of a guy (Vaughn) who finds out that the wife (Winona Ryder, welcome back, you look great! Too bad about being married to Kevin James) of his best friend (Kevin James) is cheating on him. It does this in a surprisingly measured and even vaguely well-balanced way, even suggesting that Ryder wants out of a mutually stalled marriage.

The problem is, the movie isn’t particular funny. Not not-funny as in too serious, nor not-funny as in flat-out unfunny, like Vaughn’s other recent stabs at relationship counseling (Four Christmases; Couples Retreat); it’s just sort of there. There are moments where Vaughn’s yammering stumbles into some amusingly motormouthed explanations or lies or what-not, and a solidly funny, kind of dark fight scene with Vaughn and Channing Tatum (!), but most of the movie is so clumsy about mixing comedy and drama that all it can do is alternate wan versions of the former (Vaughn falls down!) (And James doesn’t! Weird, right?) and speeched-up versions of the latter (especially in the dire last twenty or thirty minutes). It’s not a painful rehashing of sitcom jokes, but it doesn’t really think of new jokes, either. This used to be the kind of movie Howard did best: think of Parenthood, or The Paper. But the clunkiness that defines his soulless Dan Brown adaptations or perfunctory Russell Crowe Oscar movies has tripped into his sense of humor, too.

Barney’s Version: I don’t know much about this movie except that it stars Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman (get ready for a kvetch-off!), and it’s one of those indie movies where the mini-studio seems to have hedged its bets for as long as possible, opening it in Los Angeles and/or New York sometime in December for a few days juuuust in case it somehow gets some kind of Oscar heat, and then, when it doesn’t, shuffling it off into January or February or March for a real, and mostly ignored release. Other recent beneficiaries of this non-strategy include Biutiful, The Company Men, and Frankie & Alice. (Collect all none!) This inevitably makes me far less likely to see the movie in question than if it had just come out, unashamed, in January or February.