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— Woody Allen, Curse of the Jade Scorpion

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Moulin Rouge

Ambitious, daring, energetic, and entertaining —Marty Mapes (review...)

Everybody comes to the Moulin Rouge

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Surely the real dilemma was discussed in hush-hush tones at Universal Pictures: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly, and Ron Howard have all attached themselves to this project. How do we tell them the screenplay stinks?

The Situation

Two couples face a dilemma
Two couples face a dilemma

The Dilemma starts off with a fair degree of promise. Two couples are dining at a classy Chicago restaurant. That’d be two extremely attractive women, Beth (Connelly) and Geneva (Ryder), with their average Joe significant others, Ronny (Vaughn) and Nick (James). They’re chatting about relationships and the question pops up: How long does it take before you really get to know somebody?

Nick says it takes 10 seconds. The sap fell in love with Geneva, his wife, the second he saw her.

Ronny, on the other hand, suggests you might never get to know the real person. He goes morbid and starts rattling off bizarre stories of deception, betrayal, and murder that appeared on episodes of 20/20. Ronny’s still in the dating phase and he’s reluctant to propose to Beth, his live-in lover.

Things start to unravel for the two couples when Ronny spots Geneva getting extremely friendly with another man at the botanical gardens.

The dilemma for Ronny is whether or not he should tell Nick about what he saw. The kicker is that the two guys are business partners and they’ve got a major project in the works for Chrysler. If Ronny tells Nick right away, Nick might lose the eye of the tiger and their financial fortunes would fall into jeopardy.

The Trailer

The Dilemma gained a degree of notoriety when the film’s trailer first started running. In it, Vaughn’s character is seen making a comment about how electric cars are gay, in the old-fashioned meaning of the word. Of course, in this overly-sensitive, politically-correct society, such a slur gets some people up in arms and there were calls to edit out the “gay’ reference.

Thankfully, director Ron Howard didn’t bend and the line stayed in the movie. Yep. Universal cut it from the trailer, but it remains in the feature.

It’s actually a pretty funny little bit when taken in the full context of the scene. Ronny’s making a pitch to a bunch of stuffed shirts at Chrysler HQ and he’s describing the complete lack of sex appeal in imported electric cars. They’re soft little bunny rabbits. He wants to marry the electric car with the good ol’ American muscle car and Nick is the mad scientist who can make an electric car roar like a lion.

Considering Ronny’s the pitchman, part of the humor is in his questionable presentation skills. While toasting Beth’s parents at their 40th wedding anniversary, Ronny rips on Beth’s second cousin, who dares to interrupt him. And there’s also another presentation to Chrysler in which he starts talking about the Donner party.

Think of Ronny as something like an older version of Trent in Vaughn’s career-launcher, Swingers. The youthful cockiness has given way to a jaded, cautious outlook on love. Nonetheless, in his own special way, Ronny’s so money.

The Potential

Ronny figures heavily in the best parts of The Dilemma but he’s not quite enough money to carry the whole movie all on his on.

The incident at the botanical gardens, where Ronny is planning to propose to Beth, figures heavily in the trailer. Ronny falls into a patch of poisonous plants; cut to the next scene and a medic is rattling off a whole laundry list of maladies Ronny will likely face.

The potential was there for some gags in the fine tradition of the Farrelly brothers, but instead Ronny simply gets a rash and one incident of painful urination. In other words, most of the best bits are in the original, unedited trailer and there’s not enough worthwhile material to flesh out the movie’s pudgy 110-minute run time.

Everything goes downhill rapidly when Ronny starts to stake out Geneva’s dalliances and photographs her having sex with a tattooed man-child named Zip. The guy displays dramatic emotional swings, from violent to weepy, while Geneva flashes a smiley face tattoo on her right butt cheek.

Sigh. It’s a shame this collection of agreeable, usually fun to watch stars is wasted on a screenplay that feels more like warmed over, stagey sit-com antics than fresh, big screen comedic gusto.

The Overreaction

Screenwriter Allan Loeb has dabbled in comedy with the DOA Jennifer Aniston flick The Switch, but his bread and butter has been dramatic titles including Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, 21, and Things We Lost in the Fire.

Maybe that explains why the comedy here falls so flat. Granted, this is a wimpy comedy-drama mutt more than a straight-on comedy, but when the comedic elements are forced and the dramatic spin is fairly irrelevant, it doesn’t bode well for having a good time at the movies.

Sure, Queen Latifah is game, but her macho female character, Susan, who talks about “lady wood” and the sexual thrill of a vibrating motor isn’t funny. Neither is Ronny’s jump-to-conclusions, overreactionary sister. The hard lesson is outrageous, obnoxious behavior does not automatically equate to laughter.

And it’s classic comedy only at a Three’s Company level when Ronny’s dilemma leads to a different dilemma for Nick, who scopes out Ronny getting a brown paper bag from Zip. What’s in the bag? Ronny’s SLR camera, but Nick thinks it’s a bag full of money. Clearly - obviously - Ronny’s fallen off the wagon and he’s gambling again! It’s time for an intervention!

That scenario alone is so wrong on so many levels. Zip put a heavy SLR camera in a simple brown paper bag? Yeah, the guy’s an idiot, but that’s the screenwriter manufacturing a situation without a shred of plausibility.

Like getting an electric car to roar, good comedy’s not easy. Well, neither is good drama, for that matter.