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By Michael Calleri

It's long been said that romantic comedies are date movies. Frankly, I don't know what kind of couples would find an evening's pleasure seeing "The Dilemma," unless they hate each other.

Vince Vaughn and Kevin James are best friends and partners in some sort of automobile engine company. It's not fully explained what they do, but it seems to be about revving up car motors. Vaughn, the annoying smarmy one, cons his way into a meeting with a top Chrysler executive. He and James, the supposed brains of the duo, have an idea for how to make electric cars sexy. Or loud. Or something. (Memo to Vaughn: the sell-by date on your penchant for playing slick, big-mouth jerks has passed.)

At the pitch meeting, Vaughn claims that early-model electric cars aren't appealing because they are too "gay." He doesn't quite explain what he means, but the gist is this: for money to be made from the end of the combustion era, electric automobiles have to man up.

Calling electric cars gay is absurd, but that's what Vaughn does. It's both offensive and dumb. Why would owning an early model of an electric car be gay? It seems that this would be trendsetting, forward thinking.

The fact that we are at the onset of the new electric vehicle era isn't brought into play. The movie doesn't recognize the current state of the automobile industry, or the reality of market forces, or anything that makes common sense. It's as if the characters and the situations in which they find themselves were rushed into fruition in a studio boardroom and nobody thought to connect any dots.

The weird thing in all of this is that "The Dilemma" isn't really about electric cars at all. It's about loyalty. And not automotive loyalty, either.

Vaughn discovers that James' wife is cheating on him. Or might be cheating on him. It's a bit nebulous because there's the movie's increasingly tedious running time to fill.

Vaughn is at the botanical gardens when he spots James' gal, Winona Ryder, smooching with a tattooed hunk. For the rest of the meandering movie, Vaughn will spy on Ryder and struggle with his dilemma, which is this: Does he tell his best friend what he saw?

Befuddled director Ron Howard, who seems to have forgotten what's genuinely humorous, wastes a lot of time padding the enterprise. Vaughn skulks around, lurks in corners and peeks into private places. Few laughs ensue. Much of this plays like a tease because the audience has to be strung along.

The unfunny screenplay, written by Allan Loeb, rapidly descends into darkness. Situations and events turn increasingly nasty. "The Dilemma" shifts from woeful comedy to pointless drama.

Through it all, Vaughn sweats and blusters. James reads each line of his dialogue at such a shrill level that he has nowhere to take his character. He can only get more shrill. It's excruciating to watch.

In addition to a puffy and flustered Vaughn and the pudgy, over-the-top James, we also have to contend with a poorly directed Ryder. It's as if Howard told her to wing it.

Channing Tatum plays the hunk, and he tries, in vain, to add some energy to what's happening.

Queen Latifah so underplays her role as an automobile executive that you have every right to wonder if Latifah or her character have ever been in a car. She reads her every line with a laziness that is jolting.

And then there's an uninteresting Jennifer Connelly, who doesn't let me down. Playing Vaughn's girlfriend, she retains my award as the world's most boring actress.

"The Dilemma" fails at everything it does, unless you consider confounding an audience a success. I've got a feeling that perhaps it began as a satire about automobile transportation and heterosexual male friendship. Then the meetings began. The life of the picture was slowly, relentlessly, inexorably whittled away.

"The Green Hornet" was a successful 1930s radio program, a popular 1940s movie serial, and a cultish 1960s television series (featuring Bruce Lee, no less). Interestingly, although serial episodes were strung together for two feature-length films, the Green Hornet has never been the leading character in an original American motion picture. Until now.

The founding story? Britt Reid is an eager young newspaper publisher by day and a heroic crime fighter by night. He has a faithful sidekick named Kato, who began as Reid's Japanese manservant until Pearl Harbor forced creators to make him Reid's Filipino valet. Later on, his being Filipino gave way to his being Korean.

In the new movie, which is available in 2-D and 3-D, Britt Reid is a Los Angeles publisher, but he's older and does not become the Green Hornet. That task falls to his party-loving son, a spoiled rich kid with no limits on his misguided personal behavior.

The elder Reid dies, and Britt Reid Jr. takes over the newspaper, but he still wants to have giddy fun. He calls in Kato and entices him into a goofy night-time caper from which all things green and hornet will flow.

As the film progresses, the persona of Reid's Green Hornet character is created, including his vehicle, his weaponry, and his goal to drive criminals batty. The way the picture is set up, Kato is actually the brains of the duo. He invents everything that works and has a real feel for fighting the bad guys. It helps that he's played by the terrific Taiwanese actor, Jay Chou, who is so personable on screen that you wish he were the Green Hornet.

A badly miscast Seth Rogen plays Britt/Green Hornet as a buffoon, which throws the crime portions of the movie out of whack.

Christoph Waltz is the primary villain, and although there are some funny moments regarding his character's silly last name, Waltz basically sleepwalks through the film.

Cameron Diaz is the unnecessary girl, because every movie like this has to have an unnecessary girl.

Rogen and Evan Goldberg's unimpressive screenplay has some laughs, but only because Chou does priceless comic line readings. Michael Gondry directs with an eye for excessive violence and an ear for very rough language. Keep young children away. I saw the movie in 3-D, but it's not an important element.

"The Green Hornet" offers typical action movie overkill. By now, once you've seen one car chase, you really have seen them all.

E-mail Michael Calleri at michaelcallerimoviesnfr@yahoo.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Jan. 18, 2011