Going to an Adam Sandler movie is pretty much hit or miss. You’ll either get big comedy fun like 50 First Dates and Happy Gilmore… or formulaic idiocy like The Waterboy. With his latest film, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry you end up somewhere in-between. There are definitely funny moments, but a majority of the film struggles to find memorable material to fill the gaps between laughs.
Firefighter Larry Valentine (Kevin James) is so distraught after his wife’s death that he can’t even bring himself to open mail with her name on it. Unfortunately, this causes him to miss the window for transferring his life insurance benefits to his kids. Three years later after a near-death experience in the line of duty, Larry is so desperate to make sure his children are taken care of, that he concocts a sham marriage with the only person he can trust… best friend and fellow firefighter Chuck Levine (Adam Sandler). In an attempt to pile on the funny, Chuck happens to be a notorious womanizer and self-proclaimed “man-whore.”
This marriage of convenience quickly starts spinning out of control as a fraud investigator (Steve Buscemi) makes it his mission in life to expose the truth. Alas, since the truth can land them in prison, Chuck & Larry have no choice but to live the lie they’ve created. This leads to a parade of every gay stereotype you can imagine, as our heroes face bias and intolerance now that their secret is out.
It will surprise no-one that all this ultimately leads to a not-so-subtle lesson that intolerance is hurtful and wrong. What is surprising is that the movie chooses to ridicule women, Asians, the homeless, people who are overweight, and actual gay people along the way. This sabotages a lot of what I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry is trying to set up in the final act, but the worse offense is that it’s an obvious attempt at cheap laughs that never really pays off. It’s hard to appreciate just how amazing Kevin James is at creating such a likable and sympathetic character in Larry, when he is undermined at every turn by something as offensively un-funny as Rob Schneider playing Asian… badly.
In the end, I found myself enjoying the movie, but with reservations. For every bright spot (like terrific comedic performances by Ving Rhames and Dan Aykroyd in supporting roles), you have to sit through inexplicable bits that go nowhere. A running gag where Larry’s son would rather sing show-tunes than watch baseball, or tap-dance instead of play sports, hints at a depth to the story you never see. Chuck’s lust for their lawyer (played by the beautiful Jessica Biel) has scenes that are funny and heart-felt one minute, then painfully contrived the next. It’s enough to make me think there was a great movie in here somewhere, but the script and director weren’t strong enough to find it.