I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (United States, 2007)
It would be interesting to know what contribution (if any) credited screenwriter Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways) made to the final draft of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Except for the cloying, strident preachiness of the third act, this seems to be a standard issue Adam Sandler outing, with occasional bouts of laughter becoming bogged down by sophomoric jokes that aren't as funny as the production team expected them to be. Perhaps concerned that the overload of gay jokes might offend some audience members, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry turns into a full defense of gay rights and an applause of gay culture, including appearances by Lance Bass and Richard Chamberlain. It's a shock to the system when this example of puerile comedy turns into a pulpit-pounding sermon. The film's sledgehammer approach makes it more immature than earnest.
For I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Sandler is back to playing the same kind of misanthrope than endeared him to fans of his early films, like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. He has brought back director Dennis Dugan (Big Daddy, Happy Gilmore) to put him through the paces. This time, however, Sandler must see the light and cross over to the good side. Or, as he puts it, he stops saying the word "faggot," which he used to say a lot but doesn't anymore because "it's a bad word." Okay, I'll admit that I'm lukewarm when it comes to Sandler's comedy. Sometimes I laugh, almost in spite of myself, but most of the time I wonder if I might have thought it was funny when I was in seventh grade. But to be subjected to Sandler inundating us with gay jokes then turning around and condemning intolerance is a bit too much to swallow.
This movie is as high concept as they come: Sandler and Kevin James play straight men pretending to be gay men so they can reap the insurance benefits of a domestic partnership. At first glance, maybe one could find some comic potential in this idea, but most of the humor gets lost in translation. The story makes even less sense than that of the average Sandler comedy, but who really cares? After all, is anyone planning to see I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry because of the screenplay? Instead, the reason to go is to see Dan Aykroyd's faltering career go down in flames as he offers up the single most idiotic and insulting speech to grace the silver screen this year. This makes a deus ex machina seem like a logical plot development.
Larry (Kevin James) has a problem. In the wake of his wife's death, he was so grief stricken that he forgot to alter the beneficiary of his life insurance policy to his children and now the one year "change of circumstances" period has expired. Since he's in a high risk career - a New York City firefighter - death is a reality and, as things stand, his children will be left destitute if her perishes in the line of duty. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so he and his best buddy, Chuck (Sandler), agree to fake being gay so they can form a domestic partnership. That way, Larry will be able to name Chuck his beneficiary. Of course, this is technically fraud, and the government is immediately suspicious about how a man who was recently married and another who sleeps with anything in a skirt could be a couple. Enter sniveling inspector Clinton Fitzer (Steve Buscemi). Concerned that they might be looking at serious jail time, Chuck and Larry consult hot(shot) lawyer Alex McDonough (Jessica Biel), who takes their case then strikes up an…ahem… friendship with Chuck. (Note: It would make a lot more sense for Larry to become involved with Alex, but such an occurrence would preclude star Adam Sandler from getting to feel up Jessica Biel, and there's no way that was going to happen.)
The film's primary source of humor comes from having a menacing Ving Rhames turn into a mincing, preening stereotype as soon he comes out of the closet. There's also the obligatory shower scene where none of the naked men will bend down to retrieve the dropped bar of soap as long as Chuck or Larry is around. Bodily function gags (and I do mean "gags") abound. Oh, and did I mention the gay jokes? Rob Schneider turns up as an Asian caricature who wouldn't be as offensive if he was remotely funny. Here's irony: I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry bends over backwards to provide a mea culpa to its gay audience while at the same time giving a kick in the balls to its Asian viewers.
Lately, Sander has been attempting to balance moronic comedies like this one with more dramatic fare. Frankly, he hasn't been doing a good job with either. His work here appears obligatory - the manic energy isn't evident. Where's the guy who got his ass kicked by Bob Barker? Kevin James is relegated to the sidekick role, where he's less successful than he was in Hitch. Jessica Biel takes a break from "serious" acting (The Illusionist, Home of the Brave) to pick up a paycheck and provide some sex appeal - and she does look hot in her underwear. Dan Aykroyd and Steve Buscemi would be fighting it out for the distinction of who gives the movie's most embarrassing performance, except Aykroyd runs away with it as a result of his 11th hour speech.
I suspect there's a core group of Sandler boosters who will watch the film and conclude that it's okay but not one of their hero's better efforts. For the rest of us, this is a hypocritical mess. I'm tempted to rip into the movie but I'm not going to because I didn't hate it as much as I have hated other things recently (License to Wed comes to mind) and it did make me laugh a few times. It's largely a mediocre, forgettable effort until it implodes in the final ten minutes. There's nothing here to appreciate for anyone who isn't a Sandler fan and, unfortunately, too little even for those who have dubbed themselves lifelong supporters.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (United States, 2007)
Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Jessica Biel, Dan Aykroyd, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi
Screenplay: Barry Fanaro and Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
Cinematography: Dean Semler
Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures