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(2007) (Adam Sandler, Kevin James) (PG-13)

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Comedy: Two straight firefighters pose as gay lovers in order to get domestic partner benefits.
Chuck Levine (ADAM SANDLER) and Larry Valentine (KEVIN JAMES) are Brooklyn firefighters and longtime friends who work for Captain Tucker (DAN AYKROYD) who's recently hired the seemingly volatile and gruff Fred Duncan (VING RHAMES) as the newest member of their team. While Chuck is a habitual womanizer, Larry still hasn't gotten over his wife's death more than a year ago, meaning he's raising their young kids, Eric (COLE MORGAN) and Tori (SHELBY ADAMOWSKY), by himself, with negligible help from his maid, Teresa (MARY PAT GLEASON).

After yet another close call in the line of duty, Larry is concerned about his kids' future should anything happen to him. Yet, he learns that he missed the filing deadline to change his beneficiary from his late wife to his kids. With no other option, he proposes that he and Chuck pretend to be gay lovers so that they're entitled to domestic partnership benefits (meaning Larry's pension would go to Chuck who could then support Larry's kids).

Being as straight and homophobic as they come, Chuck is against the idea. Yet, since he owes Larry for earlier saving his life, he reluctantly agrees, hoping that no one will find out about their fraudulent ploy. They soon learn, however, that the city will be sending fraud investigator Clinton Fitzer (STEVE BUSCEMI) to see if their claim is legitimate or not. Realizing they could go to jail if caught, they hire civil rights lawyer Alex McDonough (JESSICA BIEL) -- whose brother Kevin (NICK SWARDSON) is gay -- to represent them.

From that point on, they must continue their charade and contend with getting on each other's nerves, all while Chuck must deal with being attracted to Alex.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
I'm all for movies that come with messages, but only with the following caveats. While the message can be direct or indirect, it shouldn't beat the viewer over the head with its preachiness. At the same time, it shouldn't be a dummied or watered down version, the kind that's designed to play via the lowest common denominator angle so that everyone gets it. Finally, it should be done with enough smarts, creativity, and/or imagination to stand out from the crowd, but do so in a way that's integral and fits into the plot in which it's been placed.

"I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" has various thematic axes to grind, namely that of the stupidity of bureaucratic rules, but mostly regarding how American society, by and large, is still generally homophobic or at least uncomfortable with the thought and/or presence of gay people. Unfortunately, it presents such themes with all the subtlety and finesse of, well, an ax, and a rusty one at that.

Reportedly based on a true story, it's the tale of two straight firefighters (played by Adam Sandler and Kevin James) who pretend to be gay lovers so that one's pension will make it to his kids should something bad happen to him while on the job (due to a rules snafu, he's missed the deadline to change the beneficiary from his late wife to those rugrats). The problem is his "partner" is a legendary womanizer and resident homophobe, and the catch is that the government won't grant them domestic partnership benefits without a little digging in and out of their sheets for proof that they're not defrauding the system.

While not exactly original -- beyond the "pretend to be gay" gag that fueled the entire series run of TV's "Three's Company" the plot is quite similar to the little seen Aussie film "Strange Bedfellows" staring Paul "Mr. Dundee" Hogan -- there's potential in the setup, not only in exposing and examining how straight America sees the gay scene, but also vice-versa.

That, of course, doesn't mean it's squander proof, and director Dennis Dugan validates that point at each and every supposedly comedic turn. Considering he's also the guy responsible for dreck such as "The Benchwarmers" and "National Security" (among others), that really shouldn't be much of a surprise. Even so, it is surprising how bad, offensive and completely inept the film is in both delivering the laughs and the inevitable message.

Then again, he shouldn't solely be singled out, as the script is perhaps the biggest offender, and that's where the film's biggest surprise lies in wait. For two of the three scribes attributed to this mess or none other than Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. They're the fellows responsible for "Sideways," another film about male camaraderie that's about as far away from this one in terms of character depth, story, and/or pretty much anything else that can be attributed to a screenwriter. The fact that they also penned and in Payne's case, directed "About Schmidt" and "Election" makes the revelation all the more sad and disappointing.

The biggest problem is that what they and third writer Barry Fanaro offer is nothing but a one-note joke, stretched out for nearly two hours. While the point of all of the gay stereotypes is obviously to expose the inanity of them all (and they include just about everything imaginable, including the music, wild drag parties, closet homosexuals, and yes, even the dropped soap in the shower bit), the film only ends up reinforcing them since they come from cinematic class clown Adam Sandler.

While he does have the inevitable change of heart once called derogatory names while in the guise of being gay, the film celebrates the homophobia by making all of it funny, at least in the eyes of those who find such material amusing and/or hilarious.

Then there's the equally predictable heterosexual bait -- in the form of the buff and curvaceous Jessica Biel, especially in her next to nothing undies -- who serves as a possible spoiler for the guys' plan (Steve Buscemi is another playing a fraud investigator -- thankfully, his clothes remain on). Along with the other scantly clad beauties who adorn the screen, they're present to make straight viewers feel more comfortable watching this charade, but they don't do much else for the film from a storytelling standpoint.

With even just a little more thought, the filmmakers could have done so much more with their characters, but everything here is simplistic at best. And had the offensive material been funny, that might have been acceptable, but it's not, which also holds true for all of the fat jokes, as well as Rob Schneider doing a bad impersonation of a stereotypical Asian character (complete with thick glasses and tendency to pronounce the letter "R" as an "L").

It also would have helped had the comedy timing and chemistry between Sandler and James worked better. Alas, they come off just as stiff and artificial as the fake couple they're playing and their characters' love for one another. Beyond the eye-poppin' eye candy aspect, Biel is flat playing their lawyer, and should have been rewritten into a more complex character with dubious, and thus potentially funnier, schemes of her own.

Buscemi gets zero laughs as the nosey investigator, and Dan Aykroyd gets to do his old rapid-fire delivery of dialogue shtick (but without material good enough to make any of it memorable). Ving Rhames gets a meatier part as an ax-wielding psychopath firefighter who's gay as can be when he finally comes out of the closet, but his laughs are too easy, just like the rest of the film.

Simply put, the film isn't remotely funny when it's wallowing in its offensive material, and it's too clunky and flat-footed in terms of getting its tolerance message across. While I imagine "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" will likely be showered with all sorts of box office success at the cinematic altar, it's an arranged fiasco that should have been annulled back in the planning stages or at least sent through movie marriage therapy beforehand to make it work better. The film rates as a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed July 17, 2007 / Posted July 20, 2007

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