Monday, July 6, 2009

On DVD: "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry"

About the nicest thing that can be said about Adam Sandler’s 2007 vehicle I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry is that it is a better film than his previous picture, the execrable would-be tearjerker Click. That film, with its layers of gloppy sentimentality and bullshit trick ending slathered atop the half-assed writing and production elements that have become a hallmark of the Sandler factory, marked a new low for the charismatic but lazy comic; Chuck & Larry is, in all honesty, a better film. But choosing between the two is akin to selecting SARS or swine flu. Either way you go, you’re in for some pain.

Let me be clear on one point: I’m no Sandler hater. He is without question a skilled actor, and has proven as much in Punch Drunk Love, Reign Over Me, and even the flawed Spanglish. The problem is that he is a terrible producer; the films that come out of his Happy Madison production house, whether for him (Click, Anger Management, Mr. Deeds, Little Nicky) or others (Grandma’s Boy, The Benchwarmers, Dickie Roberts, Joe Dirt, The Master of Disguise, The Hot Chick, and of course, the Deuce Bigelow atrocities) are all painfully bad comedies—in many of the same ways.

Sandler stars as Chuck Levine, a Brooklyn firefighter and near-legendary cocksman (because subtlety and believability is the enemy of a Sandler picture, they can’t stop at the scene where we find that he’s slept with two ridiculously hot twins; nope, they have to give us a scene where he appears to have taken on six or seven women at once). His best buddy on the ladder is Larry Valentine (Kevin James), a widower and father of two who has somehow bungled his insurance and is afraid that his dangerous job could leave his kids not only parentless, but penniless. Then he finds out that domestic partners are eligible for pension benefits, and he (improbably) talks Chuck into a quiet marriage that soon gets way out into the open. Of course, seeing homophobia firsthand turns both men into better people, lessons are learned, blah blah blah.

Chuck & Larry has a better pedigree than most Happy Madison films—it sports a screenwriting credit by Oscar-nominated Sideways scribes Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. Alas, most of their input reportedly (and, for them, thankfully) disappeared, and instead we have a dull, rudderless comedy that runs right through the standard Sandler playbook. The direction, by Happy Madison regular Dennis Dugan (whose terrifying filmography also includes Beverly Hills Ninja and National Security), is flat and uninspired; the script doesn’t have any comic momentum, and his by-the-numbers shooting doesn’t help. Oh, it’s got comic situations aplenty; they trouble is, they don’t build—the gags have no payoffs. They just sit, limply on the screen, and Dugan then fades to something else.

As usual, there is plenty of time (although the film runs an endless 115 minutes) for cameos by Sandler’s many less-than-talented friends (the usual suspects--Rob Schneider, David Spade, Allen Covert, Jonathan Loughran, Peter Dante—all show up), and they are as unfunny as ever. Some of them inhabit a particular standby of the Sandler comedy: the broad, dumb caricature that shows up, doesn’t get a laugh, and then keeps returning. The cutaway to somebody you remember from earlier is supposed to immediately warrant another laugh (let’s call this the “You can do it!” syndrome), but that’s inert writing; you have to give them something funny to do or say or something. But in Chuck & Larry, these characters (like Spade’s transvestite or Mary Pat Gleason’s cleaning woman or Blake Clark’s crazy homeless guy) aren’t even amusing to begin with, to say nothing of when they reappear—they’re one-joke characters where the one joke isn’t even funny.

And they don’t bother to make Jessica Biehl’s character amusing or even interesting; she’s not required to do much but look great in a catsuit and, later, in her underwear. We’re supposed to believe that jerky misogynist Chuck is made into a good guy by falling for this perfect gal, but there’s nothing remarkable about her character or their relationship, and most of their scenes grab for easy, obvious laughs by having her engage him in credibility-stretching sexual situations that test his fake-gay mettle (as when she has him touch her boobs—“these boys are real, feel ‘em!” or give foreplay advice—“I don’t even know what I’m doing… show me some of your moves”). Their scenes are neither funny nor touching; they’re just marking time with boilerplate complications.

The picture’s vulgar streak is particularly loathsome. In one early scene (which effectively sets the film’s very low bar), Chuck and Larry rescue a morbidly obese man from a fire and tumble down the stairs with him. When they land—wait for it—he’s on top of poor Chuck—in the 69 position! Ho, ho. But wait, that’s not the end of this gut-busting sequence, and if you don’t think the big payoff involves flatulence, you’re giving these folks too much credit. Once the homosexual marriage subplot comes into play, the film tries to have it both ways by making Chuck the voice of gay panic and casual homophobia, but then having him mouth the bulk of the third act’s “After School Special”-style platitudes.

To rebut that, however, mention must be made of Rob Schneider’s appearance as the Asian minister of Chuck and Larry’s Canadian wedding. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s a horrifyingly racist turn—Schneider does the most startlingly clichéd Asian stereotype this side of Mickey Rooney (complete with switched-up “r”s and “l”s), and we’re supposed to… what? Laugh? The fact that this performance made it into a major, studio-released motion picture in 2007 is stunning; that it plays so prominently into a film that claims to preach tolerance, and that the character comes back (this being a Happy Madison film, where every unfunny character returns at the end) immediately following the heartfelt courtroom scenes at the picture’s end, is hypocrisy of the highest order. Apparently homophobia is bad, but xenophobia’s just fine. Did that incongruence bother anyone involved? Probably not, since based on the resulting film, there wasn’t a lot of reasoned thinking going on during the making of I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.

In spite of its slight topicality, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry follows the Sandler checklist down to the letter. Countless cameos and supporting roles for hangers-on and also-rans? Check. Banal, humdrum direction? Check. Cheap, easy punch lines rooted in lazy vulgarity and jaw-dropping hypocrisy? Check. Unfunny one-joke supporting characters and half-baked comic sequences? Check. Two hours wasted? Check, check, and checkmate.

"I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" has long been available on DVD; it makes its Blu-ray debut on Tuesday, July 21st.

No comments:

Post a Comment