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.
THE BLU-RAY DISC:
The 1.85:1 1080p image comes to Blu-ray via the VC-1 codec (reportedly the same transfer used for the previous HD-DVD release), and it's acceptable if unimpressive. The film was originally shot on the Panasonic Genesis HD camera, and while it certainly looks like film rather than video, it's still a pretty flat image--though this may have more to do with Dugan's dull, sitcom-style shooting than anything else. Interiors are rather drab and don't sport much pop, and lower light scenes (particularly the big costume ball) are burdened with heavy grain and some downright ugly saturation. However, some of the exterior shots (particularly a rooftop argument between the protagonists) sport sharper contrast and some genuine picture depth. Detail work is solid and skin tones are natural, though some occasional edge enhancement is detectable.
The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is sharper; while the film is, after all, a dialogue-heavy comedy, there are occasional club scenes, courtrooms, and fire sequences to pep up the mix and add some directionality. Surround work is especially good in the costume ball sequence, while some of the music cues are spread nicely to the side and rear speakers. Dialogue is clear and audible throughout.
Spanish 5.1 DTS and French 5.1 DTS tracks are also offered, as are English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles.
While this reviewer had no desire to spend any more time than necessary with Chuck & Larry, fans of the film will surely be frustrated to discover that the featurettes, deleted scenes, and gag reel from the film's previous DVD and HD-DVD releases have been inexplicably removed from this 25GB disc. The only previous extras to make the cut are the film's two Audio Commentaries. The first, with Sandler, James, and director Dugan, is affable and occasionally funny. The three men have an easy chemistry and speak in the language of friendly collaborators, with lots of nicknames and shorthand and mentions of friends and relatives in the cast. However, that back-slapping, familiar atmosphere is also probably a contributor to the poor quality of this company's pictures. Dugan apparently couldn't fit all of his incredible insights into the three-man track (there apparently wasn't enough time to fit in such valuable notes as "This is a crazy scene, because there was a whole long crazy bunch of stuff"), because he gets a second track all to himself; it's long on pauses and repeated information and short on real information.
The only Blu-ray exclusive bonus is a laughable "U-Control" feature, the "Friendship Test" in which, at random points in the film, the viewer is peppered with ridiculous questions like "would you ever have sex with a friend's ex?" It's a marvelous way to combine a bad film with a quiz in Cosmo.
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.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their two cats in New York and holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.