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I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry   F

Universal Pictures

Year Released: 2007
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Dennis Dugan
Writers: Barry Fanaro, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Jessica Biel, Dan Aykroyd, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Nicholas Turturro, Allen Covert.

Review by Rob Vaux

I'm trying to think of some social group that I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry doesn't utterly dehumanize. It's a short list -- basically just abrasive, incoherent frat boys who think it's funny to dress pledges up in blackface and make them play the bongos. The rest of us are apparently expected to serve as their punching bags, standing there cheerfully while Adam Sandler voids his bowels in our face. The fact that there continues to be a market for his kind of "humor" compounds what nasty, diseased little twerps remain in our collective gene pool. Chuck and Larry is incompetently plotted, thunderously unfunny, and full of characters with no discernable connection to the human race, but all of that is just icing on the cake. This movie hates you -- you and anyone who doesn't embrace its cancerous scum-puddle of an ethos. And it wants you to be cool with that because hey, it's just a joke, right?

Actually, the "joke" is that Chuck and Larry seems to believe it's pro-gay. Seriously. Sandler and Kevin James star as a pair of New York firefighters who feign a homosexual relationship in order to retain domestic partner benefits. You see, when James' Larry Valentine lost his wife, he forgot to fill out the paperwork turning his benefits over to his kids. That seems like sort of a big deal -- the kind of thing you mark on your to-do list with a bright red pen -- but if he did it, then we wouldn't have a movie. So now he has to re-marry in order to hold onto the benefits, and apparently there isn't a single woman in his life who he trusts to do what's right if anything ever happens to him. So he wheedles his best bud Chuck Levine (Sandler) -- a grade-A ladies' man if the script is to be believed -- into signing the consent forms with him. They think that's all they need to do until -- surprise! -- the city begins investigating them for fraud, which means they actually have to start behaving like a happy gay couple if they don't want to go to jail.

Ostensibly, the various wacky hijinks that follow are supposed to teach the two of them what it means to be homosexual, and to convey some understanding of the prejudices faced by the queer community every day. But the film's fundamental misunderstanding of who and what gays are betrays that notion from the beginning. Chuck and Larry views homosexuality through an ignorant, caricature-laden perspective: the kind that comes from terrified fantasies about what might happen if you ever dropped your soap in the shower. The gay characters on display are generally mincing, effeminate queens intended to invoke fear and disgust for the sake of a laugh. Valentine's young son (Cole Morgan) dons ripped sweatshirts and obsesses about Broadway shows -- subtle cues for the less observant -- while an extended drag ball features a wide array of skeezy flamboyance for us to point at and giggle. A few closeted characters wander here and there -- supposedly intended to portray gays' normality, but presented by director Dennis Dugan as hidden threats akin to McCarthy's communists. "They walk among us unseen!" the film shrieks in our ears, before periodically backing up and announcing that if you want to parade around in silver fairy wings and speak in a lilting falsetto, that's cool. We loves us the fags here at Happy Madison.

Women fare little better in this locker-room environment, though the grotesque misogyny hides behind equally feeble justifications. "Hey, we show chicks as doctors and lawyers and shit, right? That's, like, feminine empowerment and shit!" Indeed it is. Except that the doctor (Chandra West) who attends to Chuck after he's injured on the job has to fend off his crude sexual advances while his buddies laugh uproariously at her obvious distress. Five minutes later, she turns up in his bedroom sporting skimpy lingerie and begging for attention amid a pack of similarly attired Hooters girls (in Sandlerland, there is no discernable difference between her and them). Chuck and Larry saves similar treatment for its primary love interest: a civil-rights lawyer (Jessica Biel) helping to defend the pair against the city's investigations. Apparently, such lawyers have nothing to do but wear demeaning outfits to work and fret over whether other people think their breasts are fake. And who would such a delicate flower turn to in order to improve her hopelessly crippled self-esteem? Why, her sensitive gay client Chuck, of course. She can even strip down to her undies and ask him to fondle her chest, because such gestures have no meaning for him, right? Oh, the hilarity! What will those slutty chick lawyers think of next?

And Chuck and Larry has plenty of vitriol for the various other groups on its hit list -- fat people, the elderly, and a jaw-dropping appearance by Rob Schneider as the Asian owner of a Niagara Falls honeymoon chapel. In yellowface. With buckteeth. And giant glasses. Reversing his L's and R's. Amid this horror show, James struggles hopelessly to maintain his character's consistency, while Sandler merely sits back and basks in the creepy entitlement that the screenplay ladles on him by the bucketful. It climaxes with the most absurd piece of deus ex machina I've seen in a long while; necessary, I fear, because by then, Chuck and Larry has tied itself into such indefensible moral knots that the only thing the filmmakers could do was declare victory and roll the credits.

Then again, I'm not certain they possess the self-awareness to acknowledge that cowardice. They clearly thought they were pushing the envelope here. After all, other comedies use ugly stereotypes in a daring and audacious manner; why can't this one? Because those other movies sought to undo such stereotypes by giving them an absurd or deflating context: to highlight our discomfort and remind us that we didn't always think they were so awful. Chuck and Larry, on the other hand, takes the opposite approach. It acts not to subvert our prejudices, but to affirm its own. Its humor is that of the powerful against the powerless: of minstrel shows, of rape gangs, of Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney. It panders to the fearful insecurities of its intended audience, building them up by tearing any convenient target down. And because some of us no longer tolerate that kind of playground mentality, it disguises its intentions beneath a flimsy mask of political correctness -- a mask that has inexplicably fooled people who should know better. For all of Chuck and Larry's unspeakable cruelty, that pretense to tolerance is the most infuriating thing of all. Pro-gay? Don't make me laugh, Happy Madison.

I wouldn't want you to break the streak.

Review published 07.19.2007.

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