I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry

Movie Information

The Story: Two firefighters pretend to be a gay couple in order to secure domestic partner benefits so that the children of one of them may be insured. The Lowdown: Often offensive and largely unfunny -- unless you're on the Adam Sandler wavelength -- this latest Sandler opus doesn't work, but it at least seems to have something on its mind.
Genre: Comedy
Director: Dennis Dugan
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Jessica Biel, Dan Aykroyd, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi
Rated: PG-13

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is your typical bad Adam Sandler comedy that earns a few extra points in the realm of intent—or at least possible intent.

It’s easy to think that Sandler and company tackled a story about two straight firefighters pretending to be gay for no other reason than to trot out for 90 minutes every sleazy, wheezy homosexual panic and “don’t drop the soap” gag known to man—and then hope to get away with it by spending the last 20 minutes arguing for gay acceptance. Bringing in gay performers like Richard Chamberlain and Lance Bass may increase the credibility of the film, but is it sincere? Or rather is it a case of the racist who trots out the old “why, some of my best friends are” justification?

We’ll probably never know the truth, but I’m inclined to give Sandler the benefit of the doubt here. Why? Despite the fact that the movie is a good 80-percent dumb homosexual-panic jokes, there’s a sense of some kind of growth on Sandler’s part. Still, many aspects of the film remain consistent with any other Sandler foray.

Take the fact that Sandler is not about to do anything gay himself. This is, after all, the guy who went into a panic in Click (2006) when he thought that Christopher Walken’s character wanted to see him with his shirt off. And he’s the same guy who had to butch up the male bonding with “faggot” remarks in Reign Over Me (2007) so nobody would get the wrong idea about his relationship with Don Cheadle. His character here isn’t much different. An improbably big deal is made out of Sandler and costar Kevin James not kissing. (Funny how such a scene doesn’t seem to bother Ving Rhames and Sandler-pal Nick Swardson elsewhere in the film.) Similarly, James is carefully garbed in a ridiculous apple suit (looking like he wandered in from that abominable Fruit of the Loom commercial currently playing in theaters) so there isn’t any body contact when he and Sandler slow dance at a gay costume party. The only exception to all this is a fairly funny running gag where Sandler’s character is (much to his consternation) always assumed to be “the girl” in his bogus relationship with James. (In itself, this is a dubious point since it presupposes strict roles, but after all, this is a comedy made by straight guys about being gay.)

Some of the film’s bigger moments are also suspect. For example, it’s unclear whether the (admittedly very satisfying) scene where Sandler decks a Fred Phelps-like anti-gay protestor outside the costume ball is actually an expression of his character’s outrage over the hate speech, or a simple knee-jerk reaction to being called “faggot.”

But maybe such distinctions don’t matter so much when you consider that in the film Sandler is challenging his presumed teen-boy fan base at nearly every turn. In this regard, Sandler has actually done something noteworthy.

The film establishes his character (however improbably) as the über-babe magnet: a guy with his picture in a beefcake calendar of firefighters, who, at one point, has half a dozen hot girls in his bed (including a doctor, who was outraged one scene earlier when he called her “honey”). This is a character who is so desirable that sexy twin sisters are ready to indulge him in some girl-on-girl action just to keep him by their side (a crude, but interesting comment on how male homosexual panic doesn’t include lesbianism). In essence, Sandler’s Chuck Levine is every emotionally immature straight boy’s dream, living a life they can only fantasize about. He’s also the most repellent oafish boor Sandler’s ever portrayed, which is saying a good deal, and by the end of the film, Sandler has thrown that in the faces of his fan base many times over.

For that matter, he’s perhaps thrown it in his own face. There’s certainly a sense of apology for things in his own oeuvre in the speech that he gives where he denounces the use of the word “faggot,” likening it to how he feels when someone calls him a “kike.” Similarly, the film nails a few issues—like the nervous straight who’s secretly bent out of shape because the gay guys aren’t hitting on him—that are rarely ever mentioned.

All this—whether intended consciously or not—is to the film’s credit, and perhaps there was more to it in whatever Alexander Payne and his cowriter Jim Taylor (About Schmidt, Sideways) contributed to the screenplay before it was run through the Sandlerizing machine. The main problem with the film is in fact the Sandlerizing machine itself. (The reason P.T. Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love (2002) is the only really good movie Sandler’s made is that it escaped this treatment). The machine means the film has to be loaded with Sandler’s buddies: We have to have Rob Schneider as an Asian minister (it’s worse than Mickey Rooney’s Japanese shtick in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)) and David Spade as the ultra-mincing gay, with Alan Covert and Nick Swardson as backup. Worse, the film insists on as much lowbrow broad comedy as possible. Within the first five minutes, for example, we’re not only treated to an extremely tasteless fat-suit gag, but it’s topped off by a flatulence joke. Well, after all, nothing spells comic gold like that combination, right?

What you’re left with is a bad movie with (maybe) its heart in the right place. That doesn’t keep it from being a bad movie, but if it makes one homophobic jerk stop and think for a moment, then it’s a bad movie that wasn’t for nothing. Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content throughout, nudity, language and drug references.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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