Movie News & Reviews

Uneven 'Chuck and Larry' portrays gay issues in cliche way

I first saw a trailer for "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" so long ago I was living in another state.

Ah, I thought. A movie based on the idea there's no fate more horrifying or hilarious than a straight man who has to make everyone think he's a gay man.

In other words, a movie that would probably be an embarrassment for everyone in it and everyone who saw it. If the world were a movie, and in that movie someone had to watch "Chuck and Larry," there would be a shot of a dog covering its eyes with its paws. A fat kid would be so distracted by its awfulness he'd spill ice cream down his shirt. That movie would quickly turn into a horror-thriller when everyone subjected to "Chuck and Larry" became a zombie-like psychopath whose thirst could only be quenched by the blood of Hollywood producers.

Those are the kinds of thoughts I was thinking as I watched its trailer in front of damn near every movie I saw for the last three months. By now, I was almost looking forward to it; no matter how bad it could be, at least I'd never have to see that trailer again. (Until its DVD release. But I tried to forget that.)

In "Chuck and Larry," Adam Sandler and Kevin James are two Brooklyn firemen, which is pretty much as straight as you can get before you start leaving a slug-like trail of testosterone in your wake. If that's not enough straight cred, it's soon established that Sandler's gum-chawing stud has slept with approximately half the female populace of NYC.

James' life insurance doesn't give his benefits to his kids if he dies in the line of duty, though, and due to a series of Byzantine laws, the only way he can change his plan is if he gets married. With no eligible women in his life, he's forced to convince Sandler to fake-marry him, and then hire lawyer Jessica Biel to protect them once fraud investigators start sniffing around.

In the event that you are an alien from space, or only just started existing a few seconds ago, Biel is stunningly, outlandishly gorgeous. In Greek times, they would have carved 10-foot statues of her. In our times, we put her in movies where her Platonic beauty creates all kinds of headaches for the groin-propelled Sandler, who'll end up in jail if anyone can prove he's just pretending to be gay.

For a while, the newlyweds spend their time slapping each others' asses, making fun of James' swishy kid, and playing up to every stereotype in the book. It's funny at times, but a lot of the jokes are so broad and old they fall flat.

Then, Sandler gets called a "faggot."

He's used the word before, but never knew how demeaning it felt to be called one when you are one. At that moment, "Chuck and Larry" shifts from an eye-rolling insecurity-fest to a movie about how dehumanizing it is when, as a gay man, men live in terror you'll try to have sex with them, teachers think you're an implicit threat to children, and fundamentalists think you're hell-bound scum.

Not to say that message isn't frequently ham-handed. There's a reason no one calls him Adam "Subtlety" Sandler. But it gets funnier once it starts lampooning homophobia even as it continues to indulge in lazy stereotypes, a contradiction so crazy you may want to bring a tarp to the theater in case your brain explodes mid-show.

You have to admire its boldness, though. "Chuck and Larry" is full of awkward gay cliches and pat scenes of courtroom speechifyin' and "c'mon guys, we're the same great dudes we always were"-style bonding, but there's a crude dignity to its call for us to get over ourselves and start treating gays like the normal people they are, even when they want to commit the unforgivable crimes of getting married and having families. It's an earnest message, one that could be painful to watch, but there's honest conviction here that plays strangely well alongside Sandler-brand humor.

Sadly, good intentions don't make up for clumsy execution. "Chuck and Larry's" world is funnier than its advertising, which should have included a warning about the chances of shame-induced death, and it scores points for being ambitious. It's just too uneven and a little too predictable to rise above its flaws.

Grade: C+