A limp comedy that reveals itself to more or less be a two-hour public service announcement, "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" wants to have its cake and eat it too. In one corner, the film's well-meaning message about acceptance and equal rights for people of all sexual orientations is clear. Unfortunately, the material surrounding it that passes for humor wallows in the sort of narrow-minded stereotypes and old-fashioned assumptions that would be right at home in the 1950s. In 2007, it comes off as stale and occasionally even offensive.
It has been two years since NYC firefighter Larry Valentine's (Kevin James) beloved wife passed away, and he is still having trouble coping with the loss. Unable to list his two children, Eric (Cole Morgen) and Tori (Shelby Adamowski), as sole beneficiaries of his life insurance without a lawful significant other, Larry convinces womanizing best friend and co-worker Chuck Levine (Adam Sandler) to become his domestic partner. For these two heterosexual men, acting the part of a gay couple is easier said than done, especially when word gets out at the fire station and fraud inspector Clinton Fitzer (Steve Buscemi) starts breathing down their necks.
Directed by Dennis Dugan (2006's "The Benchwarmers
"), "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" comes equipped with a far-fetched plot that, if at least treated in a smart way, could have laid the way for a sweet and funny morality tale. Instead, the film throttles the viewer over the head with juvenile and homophobic gags and then turns around and punches the viewer in the gut with sappy speeches about tolerance. The comedy isn't funny or cleverthe amount of earned laughs can be counted on one handand so much of it hinges on basically depicting a person's gay lifestyle as a punchline that the third act's aim for political correctness feels hypocritical and dishonest. When Larry attends his daughter's career day at school and one of the kids asks if he has two jobsa firefighter and a butt pirateit's enough to turn one's stomach. The rest of the time, the humor is just plain lazy, with no less than two scenes where Chuck sits on a chair that collapses under him and a groan-inducing segment where Rob Schneider plays an Asian marriage officiator.
Adam Sandler (2006's "Click
") isn't ideally cast as Chuck, a ladies man and Mr. February pinup model who, in one early sequence, simultaneously beds five women. Sandler is good-looking enough, but a believable lothario he is not. As Larry, Kevin James (2005's "Hitch
") is likable but bland, and his most effective moment is a dramatic one where he decides to finally pack away his wife's clothes in the closet. Easily the strongest performance comes from Jessica Biel (2007's "Next
"), as Chuck and Larry's kind-hearted and unlucky-in-love lawyer Alex McDonough. As she begins hanging out and going shopping with Chuck"girls' day," she calls itChuck genuinely falls for her amidst his cruel deception. Chuck's and Alex's relationship, just like every other plot point, plays out in precisely the manner you would expect, but Biel, more humane and naturally funny than either of the two male leads, makes it work. She and Sandler also have surprisingly good chemistry; had the film centered on them, it would have been better off.
In supporting turns, Ving Rhames (2006's "Idlewild
") shows some sparks as Duncan, a pumped-up firefighter that everyone is afraid of until he opens up to Chuck and admits he's gay. With this character was the best chance to disprove the stereotype that all gay men act fey and effeminate, but once he comes out, Duncan slips right into that very cliché. It's a real shame. Finally, Dan Aykroyd (2004's "50 First Dates
") makes little impression in the thankless part of fire captain Tucker, who is convinced Chuck and Larry's partnership is a scam.
It boggles the mind that "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" was co-written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, they of such sparkling human comedies as 2002's "About Schmidt
" and 2004's "Sideways
." This script is so far beneath them, so creakily handled, and so frequently inconsiderate that one can only assume the higher powers-that-be at the studio got ahold of it before it could be shot proper. Either that, or the project was just a paycheck for them that they had no invested interest in. "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" is a pandering preachfest despite its well intentions, and gay audiences will no doubt chuckle when they aren't wincing at the archaic portrayals on display. This is the kind of film that wouldn't know how to make a subtle point even if its box-office receipts depended on it.