Kevin James (left) and Adam Sandler in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry"
I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry
Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison Productions team tackle the controversial issue of gay marriage in this mixed-message comedy. Despite some hearty humor from Sandler, co-star Kevin James and a handful of well-cast character actors (including Ving Rhames and Dan Aykroyd), the film's contrived plot and discriminatory jabs ultimately make "Chuck and Larry" a tactless engagement.
Firefighters and longtime friends Chuck Levine (Sandler) and Larry Valentine (James) represent two extremes of the testosterone spectrum. While Chuck enjoys sexual escapades with a cornucopia of gorgeous women, Larry is busy raising his two young children while still mourning the death of his wife. Both men are forced to rethink their lifestyles when Larry is informed that only marriage or a domestic partnership will ensure his kids are covered by his pension.
A newspaper article about gay marriage sparks Larry's imagination. If he can convince Chuck to register as his domestic partner, his kids will be well taken care of. Naturally, man's man Chuck has no interest in even pretending to be gay, but Larry lays on a guilt trip (Larry had saved Chuck's life in a fire) and Chuck reluctantly agrees to help his friend. Soon the very straight "couple" is trying to convince a beautiful attorney (Jessica Biel as Alex) that their union is sincere while dealing with the prejudice of fellow firefighters and a homophobic public.
Sandler's unique brand of comedy flows throughout "Chuck and Larry" as the Saturday Night Live alum pokes fun at gay marriage with the same goofy gusto he brought to "Billy Madison" and "Happy Gilmore." Sandler and James are a terrific odd couple, a sort of Laurel and Hardy for the 21st century. And several cast members serve up surprising laughs, such as Rhames (as a closeted fireman), Aykroyd (as the no-nonsense fire chief) and under-appreciated comedian Nick Swardson (TV's "Reno 911!").
But the film is at odds with itself. It spends nearly 90 minutes joking about homosexuality (specifically gay men) through raunchy dialogue and oddball misunderstandings (think "Three's Company") before trying to slam home a message about equality and tolerance. Huh? Viewers are left to wonder: If the movie's message is that gays should be treated equally, why do the filmmakers spend so much time making fun of them?
Biel is primarily on board as eye candy, and a relationship that develops between Alex and Chuck often feels strained and unnatural. But James is excellent at straddling the tightrope between comedy and drama. He can spark a roar of laughter one moment and provoke insight another. For example, one uproarious scene has him shopping with Sandler for gay-friendly products (a Barbra Streisand CD and copy of "Brokeback Mountain" are predictably tossed into the cart), while later he teaches the other firefighters a thing about equal treatment.
Although Sandler and James make good comedy partners, "Chuck and Larry" could have gone straight to DVD.
Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content throughout, nudity, language and drug references. 1 hour, 55 minutes.
- Tyler Hanley