Sunday, July 22, 2007

REVIEW: I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry

The advantage of mid-budget, studiously-mainstream comedies like "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" is that they can be made with relative-quickness enough to be "of the moment." It probably won't even take a full decade for this age-of-gay-marriage-as-a-talking-point riff on the old "buddy comedy/false-identity scam" routine to feel as dated as it's spiritual ancestor "The Gay Decievers," but for now it's a genuinely hysterical comedy mining the zeitgeist of the day for every just-uncomfortable-enough gag and well-intentioned message it can. It doesn't quite unseat Frank Oz's underappreciated "In & Out" as the Citizen Kane of "gay" movies aimed at a mostly-"straight" audience, but it's heart is in the right place and it's cheerfully comfortable with it's own modest aspiration - namely to deliver unto, well.. Adam Sandler fans a genteel message of tolerance for gays (and maybe even gay marriage) while admitting and benefitting-from the fact that the gay/mainstream culture-clash and the "gay aesthetic" itself remain ripe comic targets in their own right.

Granted, the basic premise - two devoutly heterosexual men, one a widower and the other a self-styled lothario, pretend to be gay in order to collect Domestic Partner benefits - was innevitable the moment "gay marriage" became a national topic, and the film doesn't really have much interest in straying from what you imagine the basic outline to be. But then, given the subject matter at play, that was probably the smart move: When an unfortunately-sizable portion of the population is primed to be enraged at the very IDEA, familiarity and safety are the way to go with the execution.

Thus, you won't be too surprised to learn that our heroes are a pair of regular joe Brooklyn firefighters, nor that they're squad is populated by a colorful collection of wacky sidekicks primarily played by Sandler's Happy Madison regulars. You will also be correct in assuming that Larry (Kevin James) is the more grown-up "serious" of the pair, while Chuck (Adam Sandler) is a devil-may-care wiseacre with a sex-drive roughly equivalent to "Family Guy's" Glen Quagmire. You'd also be correct in assuming that the main antagonist, a city insurance auditor determined to sniff out the fraud (Steve Buscemi, who incidentally actually was a firefighter in New York at one point) is a snively beaurocrat and that the lawyer assigned to defend their case is a hottie (Jessica Beil) with whom Chuck is immediately smitten. You'll probably also prefigure gags, twists and reveals involving Larry's "disturbingly" effeminate son, a surly new fireman (an intimidating Ving Rhames) and Beil's flamboyant brother (Nick Swarsdon) and the unfortunate under-use of Dan Akroyd as the Fire Chief.

All said, it's kind of dissapointing that James, a hugely talented comedian who previously stole "Hitch" right out from under Will Smith and who really can't be blamed for how bad "King of Queens" usually is, is here mainly playing the "straight man" with the weightier dead-wife backstory and young-kids responsibility angle while Sandler get's to cut loose as the "fun" one. On the up side, this arrangment has it's benefits: James get to show some subtle dramatic chops as he comes to terms with his wife's passing, while Sandler's Chuck is freed by James-as-Chuck's "handling" of the nice-guy chores from the super-nice/super-naughty schizophrenia that afflicts too many of his past characters. Chuck is a "Moe" cut loose from the obligation to also be Larry and Curly, and it's fun to see Sandler actually play a charming but also frequently-crude jerk who's not (as) constantly stopping to remind us he's actually a swell guy (it also makes it easier to forgive Sandler for having the "so whats" to produce himself into a movie where he's having group-sex with "Hooters Girls.")

What it comes down is that "Chuck & Larry" isn't really inventive enough to be a great movie, but it's polished enough to be a good one and it's DEFINATELY a funny one. It covers the bases of it's "hot" topic broadly enough that, if it becomes a hit, it's going to be something you'll eventually feel obliged to see to join the conversation. Good news: You'll probably like it, to boot.