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Friday, July 20, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Chuck & Larry" means well but drops humor bouquet

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry," with Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Jessica Biel, Ving Rhames, Nick Swardson, Steve Buscemi, Dan Aykroyd. Directed by Dennis Dugan, from a screenplay by Barry Fanaro, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor.

115 minutes. Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content throughout, nudity, language and drug references.

In its clunky way, "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" is mildly subversive — for a Hollywood comedy starring Adam Sandler, that is. The story of a pair of heterosexual New York firefighters who pose as gay domestic partners, it's ultimately about acceptance and tolerance. Early on, Sandler's character is a homophobe who easily uses the F-slur; by movie's end, he's furiously correcting those who use the word and proudly proclaiming his love for his best friend.

These are valuable (and still rare on the big screen) lessons; too bad they couldn't have been employed in a funnier movie. You may watch "Chuck & Larry" thinking fondly of "In & Out," the 1997 comedy in which a small-town teacher (Kevin Kline) is accidentally outed by a former student. Scripted by Paul Rudnick, the movie giddily conveyed its messages of acceptance through funny one-liners, goofball character work (Joan Cusack's performance is a classic) and a playful approach to stereotypes.

Though "Chuck & Larry" borrows a message, an ampersand and its ending from "In & Out," the similarities end there. The screenplay, written by Barry Fanaro and rewritten by the "Sideways" team of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, is heavy-handed in its comedy. There's an interminable shower scene at the fire station, and way too much screen time devoted to the supposedly hilarious prospect of two straight men kissing.

Though Sandler gives his usual nonperformance (you hear a lot of criticism about actresses rendered nonexpressive by Botox, but it's Sandler whose face never moves above the nose), the wisenheimer friendship between his Chuck and Kevin James' Larry is believable. They're regular guys whose work has required them to watch out for each other, and when widower Larry learns of a pension glitch that denies life insurance benefits to his two kids, womanizing Chuck more-or-less willingly steps up as his domestic partner — a matter which he thinks will only involve a signature on a few city forms. (As presented in the movie, this doesn't make much sense; clearly we're not supposed to dwell on it.)

When the pension administrators smell a rat, an investigator (Steve Buscemi) is dispatched, and Chuck and Larry find themselves cohabitating, shopping for "gay stuff" (in a funny scene, they rush through a drugstore wondering if, say, Band-Aids are too straight), and trying to maintain a fiction that — at first — nobody believes. And a pretty lawyer (Jessica Biel), hired to assist them, catches Chuck's wandering eye, complicating matters.

A few funny bits register along the way, as well as a couple of surprises: For example, who knew that Sandler, when costumed in a Dracula wig (for a gay costume ball), looks uncannily like the "Happy Days" era Henry Winkler? But for the most part, "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" plods along predictably, well-intentioned but only sporadically entertaining.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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