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I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry

Queer Lies for the Straight Guys

Larry has a problem. He’s a born firefighter, one of Brooklyn’s bravest, but as a widower with two children, he can’t risk his life on a daily basis without a more rewarding pension plan.

His best friend and partner, Chuck, is more of a hard-partying ladies man. We know this because he guzzles tequila straight from the bottle and sleeps with Hooters girls -- entire shifts of them, all at the same time. Like most of Adam Sandler’s characters, Chuck is something of a violent misanthrope, but his more sociopathic tendencies are played for laughs, and his boorishness is inexplicably taken for charm.

One night, Larry (Kevin James) devises a scheme to save his job and protect his family: He and Chuck will register as domestic partners, reaping the tax breaks afforded gay couples in the state of New York. At first, Chuck balks at the idea -- he’d prefer not to tarnish his sterling reputation as a heterosexual -- but he comes around. After all, what’s a best friend for?

The short answer is abuse. Chuck spends most of his time railing against Larry, who makes an easy target given his plus-sized frame. It's good-natured ribbing, and there is chemistry between Sandler and James, whose friendship is tested when the state, sensing a scam, questions the legitimacy of their union. Official skepticism forces them to pose publicly as a gay couple, though neither misses the chance to toss out a “fruit” here or a “faggot” there. For a movie that preaches tolerance, I Pronounce You Chuck & Larry is all too eager to cast gays, minorities and the obese as the butts of its obvious, indelicate jokes.

Not that there’s anything wrong with political incorrectness, mind you. But the movie, as written by Barry Fanaro (Men in Black II) and later revised by Sideways screenwriters Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, knows neither subtlety nor sophistication. Such is to be expected of a Sandler comedy, I suppose, but I Pronounce You Chuck & Larry has been hailed by some as a courageous cry for gay rights. One (openly gay) critic calls it “as eloquent as Brokeback Mountain, and even more radical.”

That’s hard to swallow. Yes, Chuck & Larry closes on a hastily manufactured high note, as its reformed heroes spell out the moral of their story. (“Don’t use words like ‘faggot,’” offers Chuck, ever the source of sage advice.) And it’s a funny movie, in an aggressively stupid, emotionally stunted way. But its messages are seriously mixed.

It’s embarrassing enough when longtime Sandler friend and co-star Rob Schneider shows up (again, inexplicably) as a Japanese minister with big buck teeth and a grotesquely stereotypical accent. And there is something cynically calculated in Chuck and Larry’s willingness to pile on the homophobic clichés before its inevitable, too tidy about-face. Is it radical? Perhaps, if you consider Sandler and James genuine champions of gay rights, using lowbrow comedy as a platform for their liberal, bust-out humanitarian agenda. But eloquent? Let’s not get carried away.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars