A little firehouse bliss, for laughs

Dennis Dugan’s approach to filmmaking is always leave them laughing.

“All I want to do is make people laugh,” says the actor-turned-director. “Actually, not just when I go to work but all the time. It’s what I do. It’s my strength.”

Though he hasn’t actually made critics laugh heartily, audiences have guffawed over the comedies he’s made with Adam Sandler: “Big Daddy” and “Happy Gilmore.” His latest collaboration with Sandler, “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” opens Friday.

“We’re definitely on the same page comedically,” Dugan says of Sandler. “We complement each other in a lot of ways. I don’t know exactly how, but he’ll put something down on the page and I’ll go out and find a location for it and do some storyboards. He’ll rewrite [the scene] based on what I’ve come up with.”


In the raucous comedy, Sandler is Chuck Levine, a lothario who works at a Brooklyn fire station. Kevin James (late of “The King of Queens”) plays his best bud and fellow fireman, Larry Valentine, a widower with small children.

When Larry saves Chuck’s life on the job, he calls in a big favor. Because of red tape, Larry can’t name his two children as beneficiaries on his life insurance policy.

The only way he can have his late wife’s name removed from the form is to enter into a domestic partnership. So he asks Chuck.

Although the film has plenty of slapstick and gross-out comedic moments, it also has dramatic interludes, especially when Chuck and Larry endure prejudice, targeting what is perceived to be their gay orientation.

Dugan says that though laughter is his No. 1 priority, “I always fight for story. I always want to have the comedy come out of a real situation. When I say ‘real,’ it is whatever the ‘real’ universe is you have created. It’s never difficult for me to come to work on a piece that gets serious and gets comedic.”

In preparation for the film, Dugan spent a week living in a firehouse in Brooklyn. “In fact, it was the very firehouse we shot in,” he reports. He wanted the film to be set in that borough because he felt the crew of a Manhattan fire department might be more relaxed about Chuck and Larry’s living arrangement.

“We thought Brooklyn was a little more neighborhoody, a little more blue collar and a little less tolerant,” he explains. “These guys [at the firehouse] were completely friendly and accepting of us, and we used three of the firemen in the movie.”



-- Susan King