Movie Review for I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007)

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Review #484 of 365
Movie Review of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007) [PG-13] 110 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $8.00
Where Viewed: United Artists Denver Pavilions Stadium 15, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 20 July 2007
Time: 12:30 pm
Film's Official WebsiteFilm's Trailer
DVD Release Date: 30 October 2007 (click date to purchase)

Directed by: Dennis Dugan (The Benchwarmers)
Screenplay by: Barry Fanaro (Men in Black II) • Alexander Payne (Sideways) • Jim Taylor (Sideways)

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Adam Sandler (Reign Over Me) • Kevin James (Barnyard: The Original Party Animals) • Cole Morgen (debut) • Shelby Adamowsky ("King of Queens") • Jessica Biel (Next) • Dan Aykroyd (Christmas with the Kranks) • Ving Rhames (Idlewild) • Steve Buscemi (I Think I Love My Wife) • Nicholas Turturro (World Trade Center) • Allen Covert (Grandma's Boy) • Rachel Dratch (Click) • Richard Chamberlain (The Thorn Birds) • Nick Swardson (Blades of Glory) • Lance Bass (Lovewrecked)

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To begin, I've had a long-standing hypothesis that when it comes to movies of the same genre featuring former cast members of "Saturday Night Live" they were subject to a mysterious curse such that only every other one of their films would turn out well. Since Adam Sandler's 2006 comedy, Click!, was outstanding, therefore, expectations for I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry would have to be low (remember the rule applies to the same genre only, which is why both Click! and Reign on Me could be exceptional—which they were). Unfortunately, and can we abbreviate this title to just Mr. and Mr. Valentine (which would have been a better title in the first place), this film becomes another data point on the chart for proving the "SNL" film curse to be true because, it's not a very good movie. Is it funny? In parts it is. Is it more of a return to the comedy style that made Adam Sandler a huge movie star? No, it is not. If you are looking for a grown up Happy Gilmore or Billy Madison, keep waiting, maybe next summer. So, what went wrong? The story, for those that haven't seen the preview or read the numerous pre-release tirades from all corners, is about two New York City Fire Fighters who are long-time best friends. When one of them, widower father of two, Larry Valentine (Kevin James), gets the run around from a city benefits supervisor (Rachel Dratch) about changing the beneficiary of his pension funds from his now deceased wife to his two children, he decides the quickest solution to protecting his kids in the event that he fails to return home one day due to the dangers inherent in his job, would be to form a domestic partnership with former Mr. February Firefighter and ladies man scoundrel, Chuck Levine (Adam Sandler). This way he can name Chuck the beneficiary and give him custody of his kids. Due to the fact that Larry recently saved Chuck's life during a routine inspection of a burned out building, Chuck begrudgingly agrees under the auspices that this will be a fairly painless thing for him other than having to change his mailing address. The two don't realize that domestic partnership fraud cases have caused the City to establish some check-ups on people to ensure they truly are domestic partners and not just people trying to scam benefits.

" Contrived and ill-conceived with humor rooted in the worst kind human nature can deliver…a tragic waste of the talents of Kevin James and Adam Sandler."
Larry inadvertently retains an "smokin' hot" attorney, Alex McDonough (Jessica Biel) to inform them of how to deflect the city's concerns as well as to enlighten them as to the possible ramifications of what they've done—without letting on that they are two straight guys posing as gay guys for the purpose of this deception. She immediately advises them to go to Canada and tie the knot and expect the city's lead investigator, Clinton Fitzer (Steve Buscemi playing a rat again, Charlotte's Web) to show up randomly to check on them. Both of these alert Chuck and Larry to the notion that (a) now they've technically committed a crime, (b) this is not going to be as simple as they thought, and (c) they better figure out fast how to become real domestic partners or find themselves in the slammer rendering Larry's kids not just pension-less but parentless as well. So, (c) becomes the course of the day for them. Probably, nothing more really needs to be said about the story to be able to start to use a writer's least favorite word when it comes to criticism of a plot, and that is 'contrived'. To a degree, every fictional story is contrived. It is the degree to which it appears so, that causes problems. Unfortunately, this story not only was contrived, it seems blatantly so from nearly first scene. Who in their right mind would form a fraudulent domestic partnership to ensure their pension benefits would be inherited by their children? If your deceased spouse is the beneficiary, the law would state the benefits would go to the surviving next of kin in which case this would be his children. There, problem solved. Worse though, is who would believe it would be some big hairy task to get the beneficiary of a fire fighter's pension changed from his wife to his children once she is confirmed deceased? No, this makes no sense. It sounds like co-writers Barry Fanaro, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor were sitting around one day and said, "Hmm, seems like it would be a funny movie to have two straight guys form a fake domestic partnership and then be forced to pretend to be gay in order to keep the benefits, how can we make that happen?" And when they sat down to write it up, it just didn't work out too well, so they finally decided on this route, which, sadly, didn't work out to well either. First of all, people pretending to be something or someone they are not, is nothing new. This concept of pretending to be gay to get what you want isn't even new. Didn't Jack Tripper make an art of it back in the 80s sitcom "Three's Company"? And, this concept is so 'not new' that everyone watching such a story billed as new knows right out of the gate that a lot of people are going to be hurt by this idea, and they always are. The contrived nature of all this, especially for some very misguided comedy, is the first 'small' problem with the film.
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The second problem boils down to intention. What was the intention of the writers in creating these roles? What is the comedic device they hoped to exploit? They combined two fairly common ones by today's standards, the fish out of water avenue (Larry and Chuck out of their element) and role reversals (Larry and Chuck going from straight to gay). I guess if you think you are going to employ two for the price of one the result is going to be that much funnier. There are some lessons to be learned, one positive thing about the film, from Chuck and Larry's experience in both areas. Sadly, though to achieve these lessons, the writers utilize some of the most narrow-minded, stereotypical archetypes ever created for a film that claims in press releases not to be homophobic. Given the saturation of gay friendly films, shows, and characters since the year 2000-- which by the way, we are on the closer side to 2010 now and this is not the 80s or 90s still in the first place—it's hard to understand how the writers wouldn't realize they were going down some slippery slopes with this and would need, were they to wave the banner of comedy and satire to deflect unwelcome criticism later, to approach this film in a dignified way. In the end, they proved a point that is still lost on way, way, way too many people. Gay people are really the last minority in the USA that it is ok to stereotype and to openly hold prejudice toward—the previous arguably proving the latter, for if it is ok to stereotype a person openly, then it follows it is ok to hold prejudices against that person openly. The writers utilize just about every stereotype that's ever been associated with gay people in the USA from love of music and dance to flamboyant costume bashes. The worst of this, though rises up in the portrayal of Larry's son Eric (Cole Morgen) who bakes brownies in his sister's Easy-Bake Oven, learns to tap dance to audition for "Pippin", sleeps under quilted sheets, says "Ooooey", and does everything, it seems, to indicate to his father that he's not going to be the baseball-playing little leaguer he's dreamed of. The whole mess of this rears its ugly head most notably when Clint Fitzer arrives to inspect the garbage to determine from it somehow, if Mr. and Mr. Valentine are for real. Chuck and Larry immediately move into panic mode about 'gaying' up their garbage—whatever that is supposed to mean. To them, via the writers, it means buying and throwing out Barbra Streisand albums, fancy shampoos, and fresh vegetables. At one point in the sequence, however, and this line was incredibly vitriolic though Adam Sandler does his best to try to make it seem like the joke of a joke when he says it, "You wanna throw him out?" in reference to Eric. It was probably this line, though quick and certainly intended to almost be a throw-away line, that actually revealed the true hand of the writers as they reached out through this story. What a simply horrifying line and one that amplifies the entire marginalization of gay people in our society. The very fact that Larry doesn't punch Chuck for suggesting his child is good for the garbage or even really acknowledge it in some way, sort of proves the acceptability of it. Oh, it's just a joke! Get over it. Is it a joke to joke about throwing out a kid? How about a gay kid? There are plenty of street kids all over this country who were thrown out because they were gay. The use of this line and this concept in the film stands out and exemplifies the prevailing undercurrents and tone of the writing which is decidedly repugnant under the guise of being comedic and evocative. More proof to the point would be to retool the entire film and realize that it would never have been made had it been contrived such that Chuck and Larry had to pretend to be Catholic to preserve the succession of Larry's benefits with Chuck suggesting that burgeoning young Catholic Eric be thrown in the garbage to prove they were devout. No way. Stereotyping people based on race and religion has reached the point of huge 'no-no' in USA society, though quite a bit still sneaks in, but boys who like to bake or tap dance as indications of their future sexual identity are not only apparently still fair game but also fertile ground for comedy. Much of the comedy, wouldn't be comedy in this film were it not based on stereotypes. It reminded me of the scene in Guess Who, the exceptional Bernie Mac / Ashton Kutcher remake of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? When Percy Jones (Bernie Mac) asks Simon Green (Ashton Kutcher) at the dinner table to tell a black joke, and he claims not to know any. Prodding eventually gets him to tell a joke that is clearly based on stereotypes, and Simon is surprised to learn that the Jones family thinks it's kind of funny. One joke, however, leads to another eventually opening a can of worms that no one would want to open and proves there's a lot more 'acceptable' prejudice going on in his mind than he might realize. The scene is magnificent in teaching the point of the social dangers and the hurt derived from humor rooted in stereotypes. Comedians who think stereotype-based humor is funny should be asking themselves why it's funny. Is it because it's true, as so often is the claim, or is it because the stereotypes are conceived in the minds of one group as a way of demeaning another group? Rarely, are stereotypes, in other words, a positive thing worthy of being the kernel of source material for good comedy. In the end, the film is a tragic waste of the talents of Kevin James and Adam Sandler. There must have been a better script and concept for them out there somewhere.

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Other Projects Featuring I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007)
Cast Members
Adam SandlerKevin JamesCole Morgen
Shelby AdamowskyJessica BielDan Aykroyd
Ving RhamesSteve BuscemiNicholas Turturro
Allen CovertLance BassRichard Chamberlain
Dennis Dugan
Barry FanaroAlexander PayneJim Taylor

Review-lite I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007) [max of 150 words]
Contrived and ill-conceived with humor rooted in the worst kind human nature can deliver—that based on stereotypes--sadly despite ok performances by leads Kevin James and Adam Sandler as Larry and Chuck respectively, this film wastes the talents of nearly everyone involved. It's too bad that nobody noticed that this film was on a collision course with a negative destiny in time to salvage something good from it. Instead it leaves one feeling cheated and wishing Chuck and Larry had gotten cold feet at the altar.

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