I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
A couple of years back, Adam Sandler pictures appeared to be critic-proof. Sure, there was Little Nicky, but he was a guarantee of $100m+ Stateside (much less in the world at large; he has always been a decidedly US phenomenon). But he’s just come out of a year of flops (Jack and Jill, That’s My Boy) and finds himself required to return to the well of Grown Ups for his first sequel (it should be noted that ‘toon Hotel Transylvania was a success, but we’re talking undiluted Sandler hits).
Chuck and Larry goes back to a period where anything that actor picked seemed to have hit potential. Mossad agent-turned-hairdresser? Hit! Macho firemen-pretending-to-be-gay-lovers? Hit! That’s the premise here, and the result is exactly the kind of bromantic, mildly homophobic attack on homophobia you’d expect from perpetual man-child Sandler. Widower Kevin James persuades the reluctant stud Sandler to pose as his better half in order to claim the necessary benefits (James has two children). Problems ensue as they are subject to a fraud investigation (Sandler films regular Steve Buscemi) and Sandler finds himself attracted to lawyer Jessica Biel (she’ll get those red-blooded man juices flowing, right?). Dan Aykroyd has an enjoyable supporting role as the fire chief while Ving Rhames gets to poke fun at his hard-man image.
The jokes here are mostly incredibly obvious, but that’s par for the course in Sandler films. I don’t especially like or dislike the comedian; he just rarely taps a vein of quality laughs (The Wedding Singer is a rare exception). Still, I’d rather see home mining the same tired shtick than attempting “meaningful” comedy in crap like Funny People. What’s surprising here is Alexander Payne’s (Sideways, The Descendants etc) screenplay credit. But, then, Sandler’s the guy who turned up in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punchdrunk Love. There’s none of the sophistication that Payne’s name might suggest. This is a film with an extended “Don’t bend over in the shower” soap gag.
But you do get the sense, that for all his “have it both ways” sensibility in mocking what he wants to preach tolerance for, Sandler means well in his own clumsy, exaggeratedly-mincing manner. The tide of casual homophobia that rises towards them once Sandler and James are “out” is believable (even if the rousing finale is fantasyland), and the portrayal of James’ gay son shows awareness of the abuse he will likely receive at school (even if it only addresses this in a victorious moment for the boy). But it’s far too frightened of offending Sandler devotees to show him playing tonsil hockey with James at the climax (the only way this film would actually have been daring would be to have Sandler and James discover they did love each other, as that’s exactly where this kind of set-up would have led in a hetero-romcom).
Ultimately, though, this is no more or less offensive than your typical Sandler comedy. Which is to say, it’s lazily unrefined and thinks any target is a legitimate target. After all, we’re treated to Rob Schneider as a caricature Asian (Mickey Rooney eat your heart out), complete with prosthetics. So even if he thinks he taking one step forward, Adam’s likely taking three back without realising it.