'Chuck & Larry' Has Rocky Start, But Gets Better Down the Aisle

For an hour or so, "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" is shrill and pushy and about as hip with the gay jokes as "Norman, Is That You?" Then the writing gets a little more interesting and its various hypocrisies start catching you off-guard.

I assume the interesting bits come from Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, who wrote "Sideways" and who revised Barry Fanaro's version of the "Chuck & Larry" script. Adam Sandler and Kevin James play Brooklyn firefighters who pretend to be gay so that James' character (a single father of two) can secure domestic partner benefits, thereby ensuring his kids--jock daughter, suspected-homosexual "Annie Get Your Gun"-loving son--are covered in terms of insurance.

The film is half rutting goat, half preacher. For a while, the hard-core Sandler fans get what they want: lots of face-smacking and punches anytime Larry goes a little too far with their domestic partnership ruse. Plus there's some grotty sexual business (the film nearly got an R rating) involving twin babes making out and sex dolls and, more tolerably, an illustrated discussion of the musculature of Jessica Biel's behind. Biel plays a gay-rights attorney who lets Sandler's Chuck play with her boobs, which she asserts are real, not fake, thereby completely falsifying the character. You know what? I bet breast implants are more an "L.A. actress" issue than they are a "liberal New York attorney" issue.

Like a rainbow-flag edition of "Green Card," the story requires our newly married heroes to maintain their ruse under bureaucratic scrutiny. Steve Buscemi, who used to be a firefighter himself, overplays the chief foil. But that's what happens when your director (Dennis Dugan, a frequent Sandler crony) doesn't bother to set a tone or finesse the slapstick. Having Larry fall down a ladder in an unfunny way at the mere mention of domestic partnership doesn't make sense, or even get a chuckle.

Near the end, Sandler's character renounces the word "faggot," after trying to get laughs with it in the first half of the movie. ("I used to use that word more than anyone," he says.) You almost buy the switcheroo; around the two-thirds point "Chuck & Larry" starts looking into the nature of friendship and prejudice and dealing with a few things besides drop-the-soap jokes, which are now officially the oldest jokes known to humankind. If Dugan's crude, occasionally effective effort ends up chipping away at America's moron class regarding gay rights, that'll be nice. But even unrepentant homophobes deserve funnier.

Get showtimes and movie details for "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry."

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