'I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry' is a film that wants to have its cake and it eat, too. It panders to the lowest common denominator of homophobic humor and offensive gay stereotypes, while at the same time hoisting the rainbow flag sky high in a self-serving (and condescending) plea for tolerance. It is both the worst nightmare of the religious right, and one lame "don't drop the soap!" joke away from a boycott by GLAAD. Perhaps if 'I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry' had actually been clever or witty enough, it might have miraculously succeeded in its goal, but instead it's just lame-brained, unfunny and almost non-stop cringe-inducing.
I have to wonder how much of the final draft of 'Chuck & Larry' actually came from the pen of credited screenwriter Alexander Payne (the wonderful 'Citizen Ruth,' 'Election' and 'Sideways'). The film bears little trace of genuine smarts he's displayed in his previous work -- in fact, with the exception of the treacly sermon at the end, the film may as well be the 'Happy Gilmore: I'm So Gay!' edition, with Sandler again playing another of his man-child buffoons, and the filmmakers piling on another string of sophomoric jokes.
To be fair, the movie's premise -- while typically Hollywood high-concept -- does have promise. Sandler stars as Chuck, an uber-macho New York firefighter who agrees to "play gay" to help out his rotund buddy and co-worker Larry (Kevin James), who was so grief-stricken after the unexpected death of his wife that he forgot to claim her life insurance policy before the cut-off date. Now, unless Chuck and Larry become domestic partners, Larry and his two children will be left destitute. Of course, the government soon smells a fraud, and in enters mousy inspector Clinton Fitzer (Steve Buscemi), who's determined to bring down our happy newlyweds. So Larry, fearing serious jail time, employs the services of sympathetic lawyer Alex McDonough (Jessica Biel), who takes on their case, and strikes up a particularly close, er, "friendship" with Chuck.
Unfortunately, all of this is handled like the worst sitcom imaginable. The film seems to take every step wrong. Nothing -- not the characters, the situation, the "slice of life" depictions of the firefighting or gay communities -- rings even remotely authentic. I don't know if the filmmakers were going through some sort of homoerotic panic of their own (Sandler, James, Payne and director Denis Dugan are all resolutely straight), but the film so tiptoes around the genuine feelings Chuck and Larry might be having about their predicament that nearly every frame is painful to watch. Unable to truly embrace its own supposed message of tolerance, the film instead wallows in gay-baiting humor, then "turns it around" by suddenly empowering all of the characters it just humiliated. It's a mixed message: we're asked to howl like hyenas at a string of hateful jokes, only to later be castigated for laughing in the first place.
The kind of humor the makers of 'Chuck & Larry' apparently find timely was already out of date back in 1984. Couldn't they have done better than getting beefy Ving Rhames to play a closeted firefighter, who after being inspired to come out by Chuck and Larry, immediately turns into a mincing queen? Or having Rob Schneider, as the fey reverend who officiates Chuck and Larry's commitment ceremony, do the worst "Asian" impersonation since Mickey Rooney in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'? And c'mon now, an entire shower sequence with Chuck and Larry's co-workers, who are all afraid to bend over and grab the soap!? Just about the only cliche this movie is missing is having "It's Raining Men" play over the end credits of the movie, but I'm guessing that's only because they couldn't get the rights.
It's hard to tell who among the cast looks more embarrassed. Sandler, despite efforts to balance his better known manic persona with more dramatic fare (see 'Click' or 'Reign Over Me') seems uncomfortable when he's not doing his usual shtick, as if he's just not prepared to deal with any scene of "straight" emotion. James is stuck in the sidekick role, but at least seems more earnest (if still not funny). Only Biel, as the gay-rights crusading lawyer, seems to believe in what she's saying, even if the film itself seems more interested in ogling her body than it is in giving her dialogue of any import. Finally, vying for the "I'm just cashing a paycheck" award are both Buscemi (who appears to want to be anywhere but making this film) and Dan Aykroyd, who plays Chuck and Larry's boss. Aykroyd's big P-FLAG speech at the film's end is so utterly and jaw-droppingly misguided as a supposed rallying cry for acceptance that it's hard to imagine it ever getting past the first draft stage, much less being committed to celluloid.
Did 'Chuck & Larry' ever make me laugh? A few times, yes, which is why I'm even bothering to give the flick one star. And to be fair, I don't think the filmmakers themselves are truly homophobic. But good intentions will only get you so far, and 'Chuck & Larry' is the kind of film that I suspect all those involved will look back on twenty years from now and shudder. Insensitive, inept and in many ways unforgiveable, 'Chuck & Larry' is a reminder of just how far we still have to go.
Universal presents 'I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry' in 1080p/VC-1 video, at the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, and most aspects of the presentation are quite strong.
To be sure, the source is pristine, blacks spot on, and contrast nice and supple. Colors are generally vibrant and pleasing, though I found them edging towards oversaturation (oddly, this is most distracting during scenes with more natural lighting, which look a bit plugged up). Fleshtones are fairly accurate, if a bit digital-looking. Befitting a new release, 'Chuck & Larry' has a generous sense of depth and detail, with even far shots nice and sharp. Though the film's comedic setpieces don't allow for much in the way of visual fireworks, the "high-def effect" is in full force, and the image is frequently three-dimensional. Too bad Universal still can't lay off the edge enhancement, as halos are noticeable. All in all, this certainly isn't a bad transfer, but I wasn't blown away, either.
Enjoying the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit) treatment, 'I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry' sounds better than you might expect. This may not be a big action movie, but for a comedy it's actually quite boisterous, and typical of an A-list studio picture, it's expertly produced.
Although the film itself is largely dialogue driven, there are a good number of scenes that take place in various New York exteriors and other lively locations, providing for lots of engaging surround action. Discrete effects are numerous, and sustained ambiance is surprisingly consistent. I didn't find the score (by Rupert Gregson-Williams) particularly memorable, but it too is nicely bled to the rears, so there's rarely a dull spot in the mix.
Tech specs are sprightly as well, with dynamic range that's both expansive and clean. Although the subwoofer rarely gets much of a workout, the non-intrusive low bass is just right for the material. Music is also impressively rendered, with the few pop/rock tunes that pop up sounding hefty but never overpowering. Finally, dialogue is crystal clear, and I encountered no volume level issues. Considering the material, it's hard to imagine this one sounding much better.
Having raked in a total domestic gross of over $100 million, 'I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry' is a hit by any measure. Fittingly enough, Universal has not skimped on the number of extras. Unfortunately, it's all extremely fluffy, with the avoidance of any discussion of the film's "gay" themes so pronounced that it's hard to imagine it wasn't intentional. At least the quality of all the video material is sharp, with the entire assortment presented here in full 1080p/VC-1 video.
First up are not one but two screen-specific audio commentaries: director Dennis Dugan flies solo on the first track, while the second is a big group hug with Dugan and stars Adam Sandler and Kevin James. Unfortunately, neither commentary is very good. It's frustrating that after sitting through both of these tracks (that's four hours totals) I still know next to nothing about the making of the movie. The group track is all jokes and banalities (Sandler either makes sexual innuendos, or says nothing), and Dugan isn't much better on his own, either simply narrating what we're seeing on-screen or offering surface-level insights on the film's casting and locations. Was I wrong to hope that at least somebody was actually going to talk about the movie's subject matter? Instead, this trio spends more time ogling Jessica Biel than saying anything meaningful.
Next up is a quartet of featurettes. "I Now Pronounce You Husband and... Husband?" (6 minutes) is your typical lightning-fast EPK, with lots of film clips, plot recap and on-set promo interviews with cast and crew. Sandler, James and Dugan appear again, as do Biel, Dan Aykroyd and Ving Rhames. Of course all anyone has to say is how fantastically funny Sandler and James are, and all the behind-the-scenes clips are just congenial goofing about. Likewise, don't expect much more from "Look Who Dropped By" (6 minutes), which is just a rundown of the various cameos peppered throughout the movie; "Stop, Drop and Roll" (5 minutes) details the flick's big stunts, but really, that's the last thing anyone cares about in a movie like this; and finally "Dugan: The Hands-On Director" (4 minutes) is a fawning profile of a filmmaker who has yet to make a single decent movie.
Also included is a 9-minute montage of Deleted Scenes (Universal hasn't provided individual access, so you have to watch the whole thing as one big lump). There are eight scenes in all, about half of which are extensions of existing material. There is a funny encounter for James in a bathroom stall, plus a very good scene with Steve Buscemi that hints at what the movie might have been had it attempted something a little more serious. Dugan provides optional commentary for all of the scenes, but once again his remarks aren't particularly informative.
The last major extra is "Laughing is Contagious," a 5-minute reel of "hilarious" bloopers. Alas, they aren't really that hilarious, featuring mostly Sandler and James flubbing lines, staging mock fights on the set, and doing lots of extra-manly things, if only to prove that, yes, they really are straight.
For whatever reason, there are no trailers included on the disc at all -- not even one for 'I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.'
'I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry' is a "gay movie" for straight people. Amazingly, it recycles the same old homophobic jokes we all heard back in high school, yet does so under the guise of promoting tolerance. This might have qualified as cutting-edge back in 1982, but today it's just tired. This HD DVD/DVD combo release features solid-enough video and audio, but the extras are wafer-thin, and the HD exclusives are lame, too. On the bottom line, this one delivers well enough, but I still can't bring myself to recommend it for anything more than a rental.