I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry

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"I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" is a "gay" comedy created by straights who want to have it both ways: Hit the audience with a barrage of homophobia and gay jokes yet wind up with an ecumenical, politically correct embrace of all points of sexual orientation. It's the equivalent of that old Jerry Seinfeld bit where he mentions someone is gay but quickly adds, "Not that there's anything wrong with that." We even get the film's star, Adam Sandler, summing up what he has learned from his experiences pretending to be gay: Don't use the word "faggot," he lectures. It's hurtful.

"Chuck & Larry" won't be hurtful at the boxoffice, where Sandler is a highly commercial comedy brand. Straights pretending to be gay can always provoke easy laughs, especially when the movie takes place in a tame, AIDS-free universe where homosexuality simply means an aggressive fashion style. Universal Pictures can anticipate a strong domestic boxoffice; overseas, however, its extremely broad approach to situation comedy might meet resistance.

Sandler and Kevin James (CBS' "The King of Queens") play thoroughly hetero Brooklyn firemen who through a convoluted and unconvincing quirk in civic red tape must pretend to be domestic partners in order for James, a widower, to list his two kids as his life insurance beneficiaries.

Never mind that everyone in their lives knows their sexual orientation, which includes Sandler's infamous bachelor pad that runs hot and hotter babes on a daily basis. No, everyone instantly believes the charade. OK, not everyone: Their chief, played with cut-the-crap bluster by Dan Aykroyd, never buys the act for a minute.

So the pretense commences. The city sends a prissy fraud inspector in Steve Buscemi to inspect their honeymoon pad and rifle through garbage to determine whether it's gay enough. Fellow firefighters quake at the prospect of showering with the two "partners"; and the mailman now feels free to come on to James with a slew of postal service double entendres involving special deliveries and handling big packages.

Predictably, Sandler falls in love with the partners' glamorous attorney, Jessica Biel. Yet he can only enjoy a "girls' day" with her -- you know, shopping, trying on clothes and Sandler groping her breasts to determine that they are real.

The curious thing here is that Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor rewrote this long-in-development screenplay. Yet the authors of such smart comedies as "Sideways," "About Schmidt" and "Citizen Ruth" can't move the film away from the world of easy laughs and sitcom jokes into a realm where sexual prejudices and presumptions get examined in a whimsical yet insightful manner.

One longs for something like Paul Rudnick's script for "In & Out," which was very funny yet delved into the trauma of coming out and the perplexing issue of homophobia in society.

Under the direction of Dennis Dugan, the film seemingly will try anything for a laugh. This includes having James' loutish maid (Mary Pat Gleason) wake up in bed with the two men one morning. How logically did she get there?

Some actors -- notably James, Ving Rhames and young Cole Morgan as James' small son who prefers musical comedy to baseball -- appear game for a more challenging comedy. But Sandler, whose own company was one of the producers, prefers to swim in safe, shallow waters rather than plunge into the deeper issues the film so cheerfully ignores.

Production values are strong, though the film lacks visual panache.

I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK & LARRY
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures in association with Relativity Media presents a Happy Madison/Shady Acres production
Credits:
Director: Dennis Dugan
Screenwriters: Barry Fanaro, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Producers: Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo, Tom Shadyac, Michael Bostick
Executive producer: Barry Bernardi
Director of photography: Dean Semler
Production designer: Perry Andelin Blake
Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Co-producers: Nick Swardson, Allen Covert, Kevin Grady
Costume designer: Ellen Lutter
Editor: Jeff Gourson
Cast:
Chuck Levine: Adam Sandler
Larry Valentine: Kevin James
Alex McDonough: Jessica Biel
Duncan: Ving Rhames
Clint Fitzer: Steve Buscemi
Captain Tucker: Dan Aykroyd
Renaldo: Nicholas Turturro
Steve: Allen Covert
Running time -- 115 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
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