A funny thing happened on the way to Chuck and Larry's coming-out party.
Two different comic sensibilities collide in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Two of the credited screenwriters, social satirists Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (Citizen Ruth, Election, Sideways), created a farce about straight Brooklyn firemen who pose as gay partners to qualify for benefits.
A third, Barry Fanaro (scribe of Men in Black II), wrote a broad - make that double-wide - comedy. And as produced, the script plays like a sexual-panic slapstick message movie.
The moral of this crude, intermittently funny Adam Sandler comedy costarring the reliable Kevin James is that: It's OK to be gay, it's not OK to call someone a faggot, and it takes a real man to admit he loves his man pal.
Preceding this moral, delivered in the closing moments of Act 3, are two acts crammed with disco-dancing, Halloween-loving, lamé-wearing queer stereotypes. The net effect is one of producer/actor Sandler's having his gay-bashing and eating his words, too.
James, king of sitcomedy (at least The King of Queens) and so funny opposite Will Smith in Hitch, anchors the film as Larry, a widower and single father who risks losing his kids' survivor benefits.
To secure them, he persuades good buddy Chuck (Sandler, womanizer and babe-magnet) to move in so they can feign a domestic partnership.
When an investigator (Steve Buscemi) comes round to verify that they're not scamming the system, Chuck and Larry retain a lawyer, Alex McDonough (the criminally beautiful Jessica Biel), to whom Chuck is majorly attracted.
Chuck's attraction to Alex (frequently seen in barely there underwear) signals to Sandler's core audience that his character is 100 percent heterosexual.
Not for Chuck and Larry the sexual undertones of Some Like It Hot (made nearly 50 years ago!) in which Jack Lemmon, posing as a woman, enjoys the attention he gets from men. Not for this shallow comedy the subtler, and deeper, humor of In & Out.
I feel compelled to apologize about laughing at Chuck and Larry, like many Sandler films less a movie than a fistful of funny moments.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry ** (out of four stars)
Directed by Dennis Dugan, written by Barry Fanaro, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, with Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Jessica Biel, Dan Aykroyd and Ving Rhames. Distributed by Universal Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 54 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (sexual content and innuendo)
Playing at: area theaters
Given its preachy ending, it looks like Sandler felt compelled to apologize for it too.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org.