You May Smack the Groom
Heterosexual buddies pretending to be gay for domestic partnership benefits is not a bad set up for a movie. It can be played for slapstick comedy or witty farce. The lowbrow I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry falls into the first category but humor of every stripe gets pummeled out of the premise.
Seeing working-class names like Chuck and Larry, you know going in it will have more in common with the Three Stooges than Feydeau. The second clue regarding its crassness: Adam Sander headlines and produces. Although he's been branching out as an actor with varying success in recent years, this is the frat-house Sandler. That sensibility -- unequipped to treat the premise with anything other than crude, often brutal, obviousness -- clashes with the script's politically correct message of inclusiveness.
The movie is both homophobic and in favor of gay marriage, so you might say the rainbow flag is flying at half mast. You're never convinced the filmmakers and actors believe in what they're doing because their execution of the concept is so harsh. An "I'm okay, you're okay, we're all okay" lesson is undercut by verbal abuse, hitting, slapping and a generally violent take on human intimacy. Of course this would be problematic if it were funny.
Sandler and Kevin James (The King of Queens) play manly Brooklyn firefighters -- Chuck Levine (Sandler), an oversexed womanizer and Larry Valentine, a widower with two young kids. Since meeting at the firefighting academy, these guys have had each others backs on and off the job. Unlike James and Will Smith in Hitch, the acting duo lacks chemistry, even a macho best-buddy connection. Something's out of whack when Rob Schneider -- as an Asian caricature running a wedding chapel north of the border -- gives the best performance.
After his wife died, Larry couldn't bear to change his beneficiary on his pension within the allotted time, so the welfare of his kids is in jeopardy if he croaks on the job. It's not altogether clear that it would help, but he asks Chuck to enter into a legal union and vow to look out for the children. A reluctant Chuck agrees only after Larry saves his life. The ruse gets complicated when a rabid city inspector (Steve Buscemi) investigates their case and they must prove they're a legitimate gay couple. On the advice of their attorney (Jessica Biel), they get married in Canada and Chuck moves into Larry's house. Naturally, they're publicly exposed and must come out to their firehouse colleagues, one of whom (Ving Rhames) finds the courage to be himself. Chuck has difficulty disguising his attraction to their lawyer and their wise captain (Dan Aykroyd) figures out they're faking and is appalled by their law-breaking deception.
Three screenwriters (including Alexander Payne of Sideways) and director Dennis Dugan (Big Daddy) try to cover all the bases with an overly long and complex story that makes room for every predictable tangent and a David Spade cameo. Just when it should be ending at the ninety minute mark, a whole new chapter begins with Richard Chamberlain getting a small part as a city councilman deciding Chuck and Larry’s legal fate. Lance Bass makes a late appearance, apparently vying for a career as a wedding singer. The only figure who doesn't turn up is ex New Jersey governor Jim McGreevy.
How ironic that a movie about being gay is so lifeless. One can imagine Sandler telling dissenters to lighten-up, yet it's his character who rags on Larry for excessive mourning when it's only been two years and who mercilessly draws attention to Larry's sports-hating, show-tune-singing son Eric, who lolls around in a page boy haircut and leotard prepping for theater auditions. In the spirit of its many bad puns, "raging" is an appropriate adjective for the interminable "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry." As Eric might point out, this friendship turns out to be an imperfect blendship.
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated "PG-13" for crude sexual content throughout, nudity, language and drug references.)