I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
2007Director: Dennis Dugan
Cast: Jessica Biel, Kevin James, Adam Sandler
huck and Larry admittedly looked like another terrible entry in the Sandler oeuvre. He and James play firefighters who agree to pose as a gay married couple so James’ kids can get his pension benefits. As Jessica Biel’s markedly gay- and eye-friendly lawyer puts it at one point, “Gays and lesbians haven’t been fighting for these rights for 40 years just to be made a mockery of.” Kinda dropped the soap on that one.
Or did they? One thing that’s nice about Adam Sandler’s new film is that it goes a long way toward just-kidding-be-humane, and he’s old enough now that dare I say that’s not just surprising screenplay editor Alexander Payne horning in to burst his bubble. Chuck and Larry has all the hallmarks of a bad Sandler movie: funny Steve Buscemi cameo (is there anything he can’t do?), unfunny Rob Schneider cameo (is there any ethnic stereotype he hasn’t played?), big courtroom finish with a teary speech.
The difference is that it tries harder, both as a frathouse comedy and morality play. When Sandler’s firefighter Chuck Levine is making fat jokes about the enormous tenant him and partner Larry Valentine are trying to rescue from a burning building, he makes it a point to get the fat guy to laugh himself. That’s the idea in a nutshell, even it quashes any standing NAAFA credibility with a fart joke immediately after. Chuck’s bedroom full of girls and a randy mailman who only makes mail-themed double entendres are old jokes made funny again just by the way the characters refuse to let up (Sandler’s bedroom is really full of girls) until you surrender a chuckle. And unlike say, Shallow Hal, this “message comedy” doesn’t need to ridicule its subject matter for punchline fodder—there’s not a true fag gag to be found.
The film mostly milks hilarious reactions from the homophobia of the straight sidemen. Emphasis on the “phobia,”.... total soap-drop panic ensues when a nude Ving Rhames croons Whitney Houston in the firehouse showers. There’s also yuks to be had about Chuck and Larry’s own cluelessness about the gay lifestyle—Chuck thinks it helps his disguise to tell people he “wrestled in high school…and liked it.” One especially satisfying running joke is that he can’t figure out why everyone thinks he’s the “catcher,” and not the sensitive, child-rearing Larry.
Not that trash comedy has to be P.C. to earn my good marks, but with Sandler’s target audience, Rob Schneider’s bucktoothed “yellowface” routine as wedding preacher may get as many laughs as the good stuff. Other than him, the cast is perfect: Dan Aykroyd comes out of hiding to play an overly frank fire chief, Buscemi plays a witty “villain,” who isn’t painted anymore evil than necessary, Rhames is excellent, and dare I say Sandler has cut off his comedic sandbags, like the annoying tantrums that earmarked The Waterboy and Big Daddy.
Chuck and Larry is hardly a major achievement, especially when sandwiched between Judd Apatow’s two definitive 2007 comedies, Knocked Up and Superbad. But for Dugan, whose back pages include The Benchwarmers among others, and Sandler, whose dramatic turn in Punch-Drunk Love is even a bit loud, it’s a nice exercise in restraint. Sandler and James massage each scene with goofy, faux-macho dialogue without overdoing things, so that a hobo dancing the hora at their wedding comes as a nice topper rather than a “what’s next” sideshow. Only the obligatory romance with Biel sags Sandler’s game a bit, but I’ll dig whatever sugar the straight audience needs to help the homo acceptance down. Shows there’s a lesson in tolerance here even for this reviewer.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is currently in wide release.
By: Dan Weiss
Published on: 2007-08-24