Not That There's Anything.

Larry (Kevin James) gets a noogie from Chuck (Adam Sandler) in an embarrassingly dated comedy about gay marriage.
Larry (Kevin James) gets a noogie from Chuck (Adam Sandler) in an embarrassingly dated comedy about gay marriage. (Photos By Tracy Bennett -- Universal Studios)
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 20, 2007

"I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" takes a hot-button issue -- the cultural impact of gay marriage -- and treats it with such Stone Age sensibility, a Geico caveman would groan.

An Adam Sandler comedy that offers gay-bashing and a small parade of homosexual stereotypes as entertainment, it has the breathtaking disingenuousness to conclude with a take-home message that (people of the world, take note!) gays are humans, too.

The film -- about two heterosexual firemen (Sandler and Kevin James) who learn what it means to be gay -- might have had more currency when it was first written 10 years ago. But as rewritten by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (the team behind "Election," "About Schmidt" and "Sideways"), "Chuck & Larry" feels almost embarrassingly dated (is a gay union really so shocking these days?). And its attempt to interfuse comedy with consciousness-raising is hopelessly inept.

Sandler is the Chuck of the title, a macho member of Brooklyn's Engine 506/Ladder 223, who never met a blaze he couldn't snuff out, a life he couldn't save or a woman he couldn't turn on. (We see him, one particular morning, sharing fridge time with five giggling conquests.)

His misadventure begins when his colleague and best friend, Larry (James), makes a startling proposal. City regulations (in one of the movie's many absurdities) require the widowed Larry to remarry if he wants his two children to receive his death benefits. Larry hopes a domestic partnership will suffice: Would Chuck, uh, oblige and sign the form? They soon learn that's not enough, and so Larry and Chuck head to Canada and get married.

The movie tries to follow a course similar to that of "Tootsie," the 1982 comedy in which a sexist male actor (Dustin Hoffman) discovers the real meaning of manhood after living the life of a woman. In both movies, the central character pretends to be something he isn't and, in doing so, sheds his ignorance about that social group. But director Dennis Dugan (who was behind the camera for Sandler's "Happy Gilmore" and "Big Daddy") just uses the premise for cheap company.

"Chuck & Larry" is too witless, heavy-handed and insincere to reproduce "Tootsie's" interfusion of comedy and consciousness-raising. The latter is superficially evoked: The firefighters' supposed gay life lessons spring from the unexpected show of support they receive from the gay community and from their newfound marital squabbles ("You can't commit to anything," Larry complains).

And the gay characters with whom Chuck and Larry interact are drawn from equally hackneyed ideas about homosexuals. They include a flamboyant new buddy (Nick Swardson) and Larry's very feminine preteen son (Cole Morgen), who expresses a sudden desire to play the leading role in "Annie Get Your Gun." Ving Rhames completes the hall of shame as a fireman who reveals his own secret sexual identity, only to enjoy the ensuing tension he provokes in the firehouse shower.

For the most part, charm has been part of Sandler's box office hits, including "The Wedding Singer," "Billy Madison" and "50 First Dates." Underneath the nasal boorishness, his characters are usually endearing children trapped inside men's bodies. But this time around, boorishness is all we get. And like Chuck, who at one point finds himself trapped under an obese man he just saved from a fire, we just want out.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (115 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for crude sexual content, nudity, profanity and drug references.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company