I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for crude sexual content throughout, nudity, language and drug references (edited from an original R rating)
Running time: 105 min.
Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Jessica Biel, Dan Aykroyd, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Rob Schneider, Cole Morgan, Nicholas Turturro, Nick Swardson, Allen Covert, Rachel Dratch, Richard Chamberlain, Lance Bass (cameo), Dave Matthews (cameo), Dan Patrick (cameo)
Director: Dennis Dugan
Screenplay: Barry Fanaro, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Review published July 24, 2007
Firefighters Chuck (Sandler, Reign Over Me) and Larry (James, Barnyard) are best buds. Chuck is a womanizing playboy (Sandler, miscast yet again as a hunk) and Larry is a heavy-set widower, and they are the best friends could be. They're such good friends that when a calamity strikes on the job, Larry sacrifices his body in order to save Chuck from certain death. Chuck owes Larry the biggest of favors, which Larry decides to cash in when he needs to get married in a hurry to prevent his children from falling victim to a loophole that would see them left with nothing should they need beneficiaries for his life insurance, since they won't have a parent or guardian for it to be left to. The two pretend to be domestic partners, which in the eyes of the laws of the Stae, is as binding as a marriage for these purposes. However, they soon find that the road to appearing gay is difficult indeed, especially when the nosy inspectors are sniffing around to make sure they aren't trying to defraud the government. Meanwhile, once the word gets out, they become pariahs among their peers.
Not long ago, I offered up a retrospective review of the minor 1980s hit, Soul Man, in which I somewhat questioned the merit of the filmmakers for adopting this formula: exploit as many stereotypes against Black people for easy laughs, because in the end, it will go for affirmation of the ridiculousness of such stereotypes. This formula is also evidenced in Shallow Hal, which starts vicious against heavy-set people, before halfheartedly embracing them (while subversively insulting them more). If anything, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry adheres to the exact same formula, except with homosexuality as its target. For most of the film, Sandler and company play up every gay stereotype there is, from the music they like, their fashion, their dancing, and then coats them with all plenty of homophobic reactions against them. Their thinking is that as long as the characters learn tolerance by the end that all is forgiven. Sadly, it's quite the lopsided affair, as gay joke after gay joke is unleashed without much compassion in sight, and by the time the filmmakers make their amends, in a very patronizing, overly politically correct fashion, to let us know it was all in fun, the damage has already been done.
One can only wonder just how much of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor's (Sideways, About Schmidt) screenplay remained intact at the time they started to roll film here, as the subtle wit and keen intelligence that they are known for doesn't seem to have made it to final cut. Barry Fanaro (Men in Black II, Kingpin) also had his hand in the pot before newbie screenwriter Lew Gallo tinkered with it some more in order to make it a boffo Adam Sandler vehicle. I guess this is what happens to screenplays when shoehorned in for audiences who expect broad laughs and dumb humor from an established box-office star. Lastly, one of the worst directors working today, Dennis Dugan (The Benchwarmers, National Security), who never heard a fart joke he didn't like, called all the shots, if one can call what he does as direction. More like telling the crew when to start and stop and letting his actors do whatever it is they do to try to pepper up some laughs.
The more I think about Chuck & Larry after the fact, the more I struggle to come up with what I liked about it. It certainly isn't the worst Sandler flick, a fact that one can barely use to champion the film, but at this point in his career, I've given up hope that whatever promise he once held has all vanished now that he's resolved to regurgitating dick and fart jokes for the bulk of his remaining career. Actually, I can think of one good thing: Ving Rhames (M:I 3, Shooting Gallery) steals the show with a funny, ingratiating performance. It's a shame that his character comes out of the closet only to exude even more stereotypes about gay men, especially in their effeminate ways of talking and acting. While there are certainly gay men who act this way, it's extremely doubtful that a complete personality makeover occurs when finally admitting one's sexuality. There isn't a gay man in the film that doesn't act 100% flaming gay.
Now, I'm really not trying to slam the film because it is insensitive while pretending it's not, or even for the sexual humor that permeates much of the film's more ambitious gags. What I am slamming the film for is because it has a terribly contrived premise, a lumbering execution, and doesn't really know where to go with any of it once the big joke of two reluctant straight men forced to be gay is introduced, except to pull more trite jokes out of their rear ends. Even the old standard "dropping the soap in the shower" scene is trotted out in predictable fashion, followed by the men singing "I'm Every Woman", as if all gay men want to be women.
A conflict is introduced in the character of Alex, who Chuck finds so alluring that he has a hard time revealing to her just how straight he is, especially as she parades herself nearly naked in front of him. I remember thinking this was mildly funny when I saw it on shows like "Three's Company", but even then those gags grew tiresome quickly. Here's yet another example of Jessica Biel, choosing to play a role that any bimbo with a hot bod and glasses could have performed in. After her surprising turn in The Illusionist, it's hard to watch her play a shallow ditz in films like Next and this. Her next role is in A Woman of No Importance, which, if her agent keeps sticking her into one-dimensional sex object roles, will mostly be a prescient title for her career.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is a supposedly pro gay rights film made with adolescent male audiences in mind, which comprise of most of the box office receipts for any film that features Sandler and Rob Schneider (whose contribution here is a VERY dated Asian stereotype that you'd have to dig back at least 40 years through Hollywood films to find so insulting). It originally was stuck with an R rating (something it probably deserves given how much sex and nudity is in the film), but understandably, some cuts were made -- an R rating would make it difficult for the under-17 crowd to see the film, which takes away about 90% of the audience that would appreciate such crass and broad laughs.
Particularly tasteless is Chuck's constant mimicking of Larry's much-beloved dead wife in an attempt to try to get his friend over her loss. I don't recall a good friend of mine ever saying anything so egregiously hurtful in order to get me out of a rut. Then there is an early scene where Chuck and Larry must try to help a morbidly obese man up from a chair and out of a burning house. You end up feeling sorry for the guy, and quite sad, and the only punch line to exploiting this guy in an obvious fat suit is to have him crash down the stairs on top of the heroes and fart uncontrollably, because, I guess, fat people can't control their flatulence. Har-har.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is strictly recommended for staunch Sandler fans, who obviously find no level of taste too low to find funny. I have a feeling if a moment of surprising intelligence were to accidentally bubble up to the surface of this cesspool, his fans might feel mighty uncomfortable (I'm talking strictly about the people who consider Punch-Drunk Love the worst movie he's ever made) -- as uncomfortable as they are with sexuality in general. It's hard on gay people, it's hard on women, it's hard on fat people, and it's hard on audiences unfortunate to be subjected to it. That's a lot of hard-ons for film that tries to disown its blatant homophobia.
©2007 Vince Leo