Whether you like him or hate him, Vince Vaughn has proven time and again he can carry a movie — and lead it into megahit territory. (“Wedding Crashers,” anyone?) You can say the same thing for director Ron Howard, albeit on a more refined level. Howard is A-list all the way, from “Apollo 13” to “A Beautiful Mind,” and his projects are almost always penciled into lucrative holiday, or summer, release slots, often with an eye on awards season.

 Let’s just say that in the future, “The Dilemma” isn’t going to be pushed up very high on either man’s resume.

 As cumbersome and drawn out as a slowly deflating tire, this cinematic collision between Vaughn’s celebrated funny-surly persona and Howard’s earnest pedigree is a bore — and a serious miscalculation. Vaughn gets wedged into a totally dominant, unlikable role that keeps him on screen far too long. And Howard’s direction comes across as sort of nerdy mainstream wannabe, as if he’d like to cash in on Vaughn’s edgy appeal but is far too square to really make it work.

 Vaughn plays Ronny, a fast-talking Chicago man whose best friend and business partner, Nick (an amiable Kevin James), is a talented car designer on the cusp of a big breakthrough. Both men are happily partnered: Ronny to a self-possessed chef, Beth (Jennifer Connelly), for whom he is trying to work past his commitment phobia and ask her to marry him; and Nick to the cheerful Geneva (Winona Ryder, with some nice caustic moments), who has been married to him for years.

 But it turns out Ryder’s Geneva is seeing another man. When Ronny sees her kiss that man in public, he’s wracked with angst: Should he tell his best friend? Or spare him the trauma?

 Such is the “dilemma” of the title, which doesn’t turn out to be much of one — true to form in this sloppily written tale. (Allan Loeb turned out a screenplay that uncomfortably mashes together elements of broad farce, sweet buddy flick, offbeat humor and sophisticated relationship drama). Simply put, it’s the kind of movie that could be over in 20 minutes if its characters acted remotely like real human beings. Why Nick doesn’t at least tell his girlfriend about what he sees is a mystery — but then again, if he did, a third of the plot would have crumbled.

 Other signs point to further script woes, including an underdeveloped Queen Latifah character (she plays a randy car executive) and a goofball cuckolder in the form of Channing Tatum, whose odd demeanor seems yet another stab at an unattained edgy comic charm.

 At the lowest moment, Vaughn’s character engages in the inevitable awkward toast scene at a dinner party, and his over-the-top ramblings, which extend for a long-march eternity, pretty much sum all that is wrong with “The Dilemma” — he’s overwrought, slightly mean and mostly unfunny.

Film focus

 WHAT: “The Dilemma”

 RATED: PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving sexual content

 GRADE: C-minus

 RUNNING TIME: 1 hour, 58 minutes

Winona Ryder, left, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly and Vince Vaughn appear in a scene from “The Dilemma.”


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