by David Cornelius
In the middle of the woefully unfunny gay panic comedy “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” we’re tossed an overlong, one-joke scene that leaves us convinced the whole thing was written by remedial sixth grade boys. It’s essentially an extended “don’t drop the soap” gag, and the entire bit hinges on decades-old cliché and immature fears; it proves the film has the same view of homosexuality that a twelve-year-old does. This stupid little boy knows from his friends that it’s funny to call someone a “fag” but doesn’t really know why, although he was shocked to learn what those fags apparently do. “They do what? With the butt? Ewwww!!”This sort of immaturity reigns supreme in “Chuck & Larry,” but so does a ridiculous naiveté. Here is a movie that aims to apologize for ninety minutes of vile gay jokes with a gay pride finale - a sort of “Boat Trip Redux,” if you’re able to stomach such a possibility. But having its heroes suddenly realize the error of their ways (because they’re mistaken for gay and experience prejudice firsthand in a sort of “Gentlemen’s Agreement” for imbeciles - heaven forbid this movie just let them wise up and discover on their own that they’ve been douchebags all their lives) isn’t enough. No, by the end of the film - get this! - these guys are genuine heroes of the gay community, celebrated for their bravery. The bravery amounts to: after committing insurance fraud, one of them stands up in court and tells a room full of firefighters that “saying the word ‘faggot’ is bad.”
"Puts the 'mess' in 'message movie'."
Is this what goes on in Adam Sandler’s head? Sandler, who serves as producer in addition to starring as the titular Chuck, probably wanted to make a serious message movie. After all, his new trend is to combine broad comedy with overbearingly schmaltzy melodrama, the sort that’s supposed to have his fans walking out of the multiplex thinking, “man, that was hilarious, but, you know, really serious, too.” Anyone who has seen “Click” knows that Sandler’s ideas of serious drama are at best embarrassing and at worst completely hilarious in their ill-advised schlockiness.
Now Sandler attempts to be a messenger for tolerance, teaching his frat house fans that it’s not very nice to beat the shit out of the lispy queer down the hall. Good for you, Adam Sandler! Of course, if your movie is to be the final say in the matter, then the ultimate message is: calling gay people “faggots” is wrong, but it’s still oh-so-right to laugh endlessly at fat people and those kooky Asians with the funny-looking eyes and the stupid accents and their “flied lice.” They’re different from us!! Hahahahaha!!!
Yes, dear reader, “Chuck & Larry” opens with a particularly awful sequence in which firefighters rescue a really, really fat guy, who, upon emerging from the blaze, demands more food, tee hee. Later in the film, Rob Schneider shows up - and because that in itself is not enough of an offense, Schneider is done up in horrific Asian caricature makeup, delivering the most jaw-droppingly offensive ethnic performance since Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” That Schneider does not engage in a kung fu scene is, I suppose, Sandler’s version of thematic restraint.
Anyway. The film, in which firefighters Chuck and Larry (Kevin James) get all gay-married to secure insurance benefits, is a semi-remake of the Australian charmer “Strange Bedfellows,” with just enough story changes to avoid a lawsuit. While the Aussie original isn’t a great film by any means - it’s bogged down in predictability and genre formula - it does contain a great amount of sweetness and charisma, leaving us smiling. More importantly, comparing it to “Chuck & Larry” clues us in to just how the American version gets it so very, very wrong.
For starters, the firefighters of the original film are older gents who have grown up in a small, isolated rural community; their homophobia is understandable for their age, location, upbringing, etc. Chuck and Larry, meanwhile, are New York Gen-Xers. Growing up in the modern Big Apple, they’ve surely encountered a homosexual or two, right? By placing these characters in this time, this place, the movie does not allow for social ignorance as an excuse for their horrible attitudes. They’re just dicks.
“Bedfellows” has its characters learn the folly of their ways by encountering cultures they never knew existed; while there are a few dips into the stereotype pool, most of the film deals with its leading men realizing that hey, these gay blokes are just like everyone else. The tolerance grows naturally from the story. “Chuck & Larry,” meanwhile, pile on the stereotypes - yes, comedy hack Nick Swardson shows up in yet another of his gawdawful isn’t-lisping-hilarious? characters, and we as a nation yawn - and, more tellingly, surrounds Chuck with a parade of sexy young women in a desperate attempt to constantly remind us that Adam Sandler is Totally Not At All Gay. “Bedfellows” is the tale of two men’s awakening to a new, socially conscious world; “Chuck & Larry” is sitcom about a guy who discovers that pretending to be gay puts a crimp in his plans to keep getting laid.
“Bedfellows” ends with its leading men finally understanding that when it comes to friendship, there’s nothing to be ashamed about the term “love,” and that human relationships are far more complicated than terminology might suggest. “Chuck & Larry” ends with a big, stupid courtroom showdown that tells us that no matter how good a friend you are, kissing a dude is, like, really gross, and Adam Sandler is Totally Not At All Gay, oh, and by the way, don’t call people “faggots,” because that’s mean and stuff, and then the entire New York gay community throws a party for them. Or something.
Movies - no, not even the other Adam Sandler ones- rarely get as boneheaded as “Chuck & Larry.” This one’s in a class all by itself, swimming in misogyny (Jessica Biel, playing a supposedly intelligent lawyer, does nothing here but parade about in her undies) and stereotype cliché (Ving Rhames is a Big Scary Black Man until it’s revealed he’s gay, upon which he suddenly turns into a Preening Queen) and strange mixed messages (Chuck crudely mocks Larry’s effeminate, show-tunes-loving son for being a Royal Faggoty Queer, but then yells at Larry for not treating the kid with respect, often in the same scene - huh??) and so on. Its best attempts at comedy are failed sitcom scenarios, and its best attempts at drama are woe-is-me half-heartedness in which we’re asked to show sympathy for these assholes.
But it’s more than that - above all the idiotic shenanigans and brutally offensive conversation, “Chuck & Larry” is flat-out a badly made movie. As a comedy, there just aren’t any laughs to be found. The editing is abysmal, clunkily stomping all over any potential comic rhythm. Dennis Dugan’s direction is flat, emphasizing dialogue that, even when it’s not horrible, is strictly amateur hour. Even the movie’s most basic effects work is preposterously phony; just watch any scene set in a moving car, and pay attention to the backgrounds. I haven’t seen rear projection this cheap since Cary Grant went for a drive. For a big studio production, this movie looks simply awful.
It’s worth noting that Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, who won an Oscar for their “Sideways” script, received screen credit here. Critics have been scratching their heads over this one for months - how much of this hideous mess did these two contribute? How much of it was abandoned during the rewrite credited by Barry Fanaro, author of “The Crew” and “Men in Black II”? How much still was dropped by Sandler and company while yukking it up on the set? And more importantly, how does someone like Adam Sandler, who obviously knows the difference between upscale and lowbrow, decide to toss the Payne/Taylor script in favor of something this terrible?I guess it’s the same part of Sandler’s brain that convinced him that if he ever made a pro-gay comedy, he should make sure it contains lots of preaching, a cruel racial caricature or two, and enough hot babes to make sure those frat boys know that he is Totally Not At All In Any Way Anything Remotely Resembling Gay.
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originally posted: 01/14/08 17:22:54