I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
You know a movie is going to be bad when Rob Schneider shows up dressed as a Chinese wedding chapel minister. No, come to think of it, you know of movie is going to be bad when Rob Schneider shows up at all.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is the story of Chuck Levine (Adam Sandler) and Larry Valentine (Kevin James), some of New York City’s finest firefighters and best friends since their days at the academy. But the two men couldn’t be more different. While Chuck was Mr. February in the annual firefighter calendar and lives the sort of swinging life that would make Austin Powers blush, Larry is a grieving widower trying his best to raise his two kids alone. When Larry begins having trouble making ends meet, he concocts a wild idea to convince Chuck to pretend to be his gay lover in order to secure domestic partner benefits. Chuck is obviously rabidly against the idea from the start but is eventually won over because Larry assures him privacy laws are so such that no one will possibly be able to find out. Famous last words.
Obviously the secret must out. When the city sends inspector Clinton Fitzer (Steve Buscemi) to sniff around and make sure the men are not attempting fraud, Chuck and Larry must go to great lengths to make their relationship look convincing. That’s hard enough when you’re a Neanderthal like Chuck, but even more so when Alex, the lawyer you’ve hired to handle your side of the case looks like Jessica Biel. As the investigation draw closer and closer to the truth, both men are ostracized by their uber-masculine community and Chuck finds himself head over heels in love with Alex but unable to act on his feelings.
The surprisingly charming Hitch revealed that Kevin James could steal the show even from the likes of such a charismatic actor as Will Smith and that when James finished his TV work (“King of Queens” just concluded after nine seasons), Hollywood would be waiting with open arms. While James doesn’t pull the carpet out from beneath funnyman Adam Sandler’s feet, he more than holds his own. Too bad it couldn’t have been in a better movie.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry depends on implausible situational comedy, broad stereotypical humor, homosexual parodies, and cheap jokes to amuse its audience. The laughs are rarely organic to the story, but are the sort of ridiculous, over-the-top gags that guarantee fast laughs but not long ones. Worse still, despite the film’s snowballing support of alternative lifestyles, there are moments that some gay viewers may find offensive.
Like so many films with political messages at their core, Chuck and Larry can’t quite walk the fine line of soapbox oratory without slipping off the edge. Occasionally abandoning the sort of subtlety required to keep the film from feeling like an after-school special with a moral axe to grind, Chuck and Larry gets preachy once too often. From a Fred Phelps-like confrontation on a street corner to speech making in a courtroom, the film simply takes itself too seriously.
It is also troubling that nearly all of the film’s touching, sentimental and life-affirming instances occur exactly at those moments when the friends are proactively doing everything within their power to deceive those around them. Their lies tarnish their good deeds, even though, in the end, no one seems to care in the least.
Several of Sandler’s old SNL pals drop by for cameos including Schneider, David Spade, Rachel Dratch and Dan Aykroyd. Recently out actor Richard Chamberlain and singer Lance Bass also drop by. But it is Ving Rhames who elicits the most guffaws as a gay firefighter who plucks every stereotype in the book and then some.
Perhaps the most shocking moment of the entire film occurs during the closing credits. One of the three credited screenwriters is none other than Alexander Payne, writer/director of such subtle masterpieces as Election, About Schmidt, and Sideways. That he was involved at all explains the film’s sporadic and intermittent moments of true, genuine hilarity (there are some great give and takes between Sandler and James) as well as a scene that lovingly rips off one of the greatest moments in cinematic history from Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus. But it does not lessen the shock of seeing his name attached to a project that ultimately cannot rise above its banal, clichéd and pedestrian roots.
I kept waiting for someone to ask if anyone knew of any reason why these two should not be joined in holy matrimony, but alas, no one ever did.