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Movies: The Dilemma * *

All-American buffoons Vince Vaughn and Kevin James smile unthreateningly from publicity posters for The Dilemma, which would lead you to suppose it's one of those comic buddy films both men tend to churn out at regular intervals.

As it turns out, however, The Dilemma is one of the strangest and most contradictory mainstream films I've seen in a while, a movie that has more moods than Sybil and can't seem to pick one and stick to it.

Messrs Vaughn and James are Ronny and Nick, best friends from way back who run a promising automobile electronics company and are both happily involved with glamorous women.

Or so they think: having recovered from a serious gambling addiction, Ronny is pondering popping the question to Beth (Jennifer Connelly), but Nick's marriage to Geneva (Winona Ryder) is not going as well as he thinks.

When Ronny's in a tropical garden scouting out proposal locations, he sees Geneva in the company of a handsome, tattooed young man. When they kiss, Ronny shudders -- what is he going to do about it?

This is the film's 'dilemma', and a tricky situation to be sure, but old Ronny certainly makes a mess of dealing with it. First he starts spying on Geneva, then confronts her, and when that gets him nowhere he ends up embroiling himself and everyone else in one unholy mess.

That summary might make The Dilemma sound like a comedy, but a lot of the time it isn't. In fact it's a strangely joyless and mean-spirited affair, and neither its writer Allan Loeb nor director Ron Howard seem quite sure whether it's a farce, a satire, a black comedy, a melodrama or all of the above.

There is the odd decent scene, in particular a disastrously inappropriate wedding anniversary party speech, but in the end all The Dilemma succeeds in doing is leaving a bad taste in the viewer's mouth.

Vaughn and James are both performers who tread a fine line between comedy and obnoxiousness, and it's Vaughn who irritates most here, floundering around like a distressed tree trunk, a dodgy actor in search of a believable part.

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