'I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry'

EntertainmentMoviesMinority GroupsAdam SandlerKevin James

It's always a risk to make a movie based on current events because the shelf life is so short. "Ripped from today's headlines" can quickly become tomorrow's big yawn. The creators of the comedy "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" seem to have tried to circumvent this problem by setting their movie in a land that time forgot.

It's ostensibly contemporary Brooklyn, but aside from the fact that same-sex couples can register their domestic partnerships and go to Canada to be married, everything else about the movie feels firmly rooted in 1980 (or earlier). There are gags here that may be older than the film's stars, Adam Sandler and Kevin James.

James plays Larry Valentine, a widowed New York firefighter who failed to change his beneficiary within the requisite 12 months and now faces leaving his children with nothing should he die on the job. The only fix offered him is to remarry — which somehow leads to him laying a guilt trip on his best buddy and fellow fireman, Chuck Levine (Sandler), to get him to agree to register as domestic partners.

The two bruisers attempt to keep it on the down-low until a fussy fraud investigator (Steve Buscemi) starts digging through their trash, which he not surprisingly finds to be not very gay. On the advice of their "smokin' hot" attorney, Alex (Jessica Biel), Larry and Chuck reluctantly take the relationship to the next level, heading to Niagara Falls for a quicky wedding.

That everyone they know save their up-and-at-'em captain (Dan Aykroyd) immediately accepts the arrangement despite their previously strident heterosexuality is dubious, but since the entire premise of the movie is riding on it you have to let it go.

The depiction of gay life (or more precisely Chuck and Larry's experience of it) is more pathetic than offensive. It's one big disco ball of mincing and preening as far as they know, and the gay people they encounter do nothing to dispel that. Most annoying is the filmmakers' desire to have it both ways. They exploit the situational humor by deploying ridiculous stereotypes and the kind of language that got Isaiah Washington in trouble and then throw up a Hail Mary mea culpa by wrapping things up ever so neatly with a farfetched evolution toward understanding and acceptance.

The movie takes the low road throughout, dispensing with the notion of going for anything but broad humor. And even though it was produced by Sandler's Happy Madison Productions and Tom Shadyac's Shady Acres Entertainment, heavyweights in the movie comedy world, "Chuck & Larry" fails to deliver on its main promise of big laughs, which is the film's truly unforgivable sin.

Director Dennis Dugan resorts to a stream of cameos to invigorate the limp screenplay credited to Barry Fanaro ("Men in Black II") and (surprisingly) the "Sideways" team of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, but it's not nearly enough.

The basic concept of a mainstream movie riffing on the idea of resolutely straight guys entering into a gay marriage had potential as a comedy in the tradition of "Some Like It Hot," and James and Sandler have some actual chemistry as a duo. But by relying on stale jokes and simplistic notions of tolerance and acceptance, "Chuck & Larry" wastes the opportunity.

kevin.crust@latimes.com

"I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry." MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude sexual content through-out, nudity, language and drug references. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes. In general release.

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