July 15, 2009

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (2007)
Universal Home Video

116 mins. · PG-13
16x9 · 1.85:1

Format
Blu-Ray

Audio
English - DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio
French - DTS 5.1
Spanish - DTS 5.1

Subtitles
English, French, Spanish

Extras
Commentary Tracks, Interactive Quiz

Starring
Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Jessica Biel

Review by
Felix Gonzalez, Jr.


Rating



(2007)

Lesbians, come on, bend yo' wrist like this.
Gay folk, come on, bend yo' wrist like this.
Bisexuals, come on, let me see you bend yo' wrist.
Trisexuals, bend yo' wrist like this.


These are lyrics from the closing song in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry." In an apparent attempt to celebrate homosexuality, the song repeatedly evokes one of the longest-standing stereotypes, the limp wrist, that have demeaned gays for more than 100 years. Because, you know, that's what makes people gay—they bend their wrists. But that is characteristic of the film as a whole, which makes a punch line out of every tired gay stereotype imaginable and then limply tries to defend its content by tacking on a thoroughly unconvincing message of tolerance and acceptance.

Chuck Levine (Adam Sandler) and Larry Valentine (Kevin James) are two New York City firefighters and best friends. After a brief stint in the hospital, Larry realizes that his recently deceased wife is still listed as his primary beneficiary in his life insurance policy. The process of making his two children his beneficiaries proves more difficult than he anticipated, but he is informed that an easy way out is to get married and name his new wife as the beneficiary. With no women in his life, Larry turns to Chuck with the idea of pretending to be gay and becoming domestic partners just for the sake of the insurance. All they have to do is sign the papers, and none of their friends will ever have to know. Getting the certificate is easy enough, but they quickly find themselves targeted by investigators who suspect the partnership may indeed be a fraud. To clear themselves, Chuck and Larry hire a lawyer, Alex McDonough (Jessica Biel), to help them. She encourages them to go to Canada for a quick marriage to make their partnership more legitimate.

Now legally married and with the possibility of an investigator showing up unannounced, Chuck and Larry must convincingly play house and feign romantic affection for each other when strangers come by. Chuck, a confirmed bachelor and homophobe, finds married life especially difficult to adjust to, particularly as he finds himself increasingly attracted to Alex, who invites him to join her for a girl's day out after concluding that he is the "girl" in the relationship. Things only become more complicated for the two men as their relationship gains more exposure and they must fight off prejudice from their fellow firefighters and the dads at Larry's kids' school, who no longer want him involved in their extra-curricular activities.

Working from a script co-written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor ("Election," "Sideways"), Dennis Dugan and Adam Sandler mark their third film together (they have since made 2008's "You Don't Mess with the Zohan"). Payne himself has acknowledged that the final film bears little resemblance to what he and Taylor originally wrote and was "Sandlerized" after the comedian and his team signed on for the production. That is obvious as the film is tainted by the sophomoric humor of Dugan and Sandler's previous work and contains none of the wit or character insight of Payne and Taylor's screenplays. In fact, the movie is comprised almost entirely of unoriginal material that attempts to draw laughs from blatantly homophobic, sexist, and racist characterizations that simply pander to an immature audience's underdeveloped social awareness. How else can you possibly explain Rob Schneider's uncredited appearance as an Asian minister, an exercise in yellowface that would have been at home in a World War II propaganda film?

In the real world, neither Sandler nor James really fits the standard image of machismo, and so to reinforce their manliness, they are offset by a number of overtly emasculated male characters, the kind of "sissy" supporting characters that populated Hollywood films of the 1930s. These begin with a morbidly obese man who must be rescued from his burning apartment—which he shares with his mother—whose final indignity is releasing a loud fart after falling down the stairs. Other embarrassing characters include a closeted mailman with an endless arsenal of mail-related gay euphemisms (Robert Smigel), Alex's prancing, gay brother (Nick Swardson), and Larry's tap-dancing, show tune-loving son (Cole Morgen). Ving Rhames has an extended cameo role as an intimidating firefighter who is rumored to have violent outbursts. Upon revealing that he, too, is gay, he is reduced to the same depiction of a limp-wristed queen that the film categorizes all gay men into, belting out "I'm Every Woman" in the firehouse shower.

It is not just gay men who are ridiculed, however. There is not a single female character with an ounce of intelligence or self-respect to be found (outside of Larry's young daughter, the only character who seems to have a brain at all). Chuck is supposed to be a lady's man, and we are led to believe that Sandler's ugly mug has the power to inspire identical twin sisters to consider making out. Chandra West plays a doctor who at first is offended by Chuck's advances but then inexplicably hops into bed with him and a gaggle of Hooters girls. Even Alex, who is superficially intelligent and well-educated, is nothing more than an object of sexual gaze, whether shaking her butt in a leather catsuit or willfully having her breasts felt up by Sandler. She exists solely as a straight-male fantasy made flesh.

But what truly makes "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" so detestable is its disingenuous attempt to justify itself with a tacked-on call for acceptance of all people and lifestyles. This is introduced when Chuck and Larry encounter a group of anti-gay protesters outside an AIDS research fundraiser. The bigots are indeed portrayed as unattractive, one-dimensional cartoons in this scene. But the film paints homosexuals as unattractive, one-dimensional cartoons for nearly two hours. Cameo appearances by such "outed" celebrities as Richard Chamberlain and Lance Bass seem to be there only to say, "Look, we have the gay community's approval." The fact that James and Sandler's will-they-or-won't-they courtroom finale culminates in a solid they-don't demonstrates the filmmakers' reluctance to satisfactorily confront the material. It is far more comfortable and less off-putting to Sandler's masculine fanbase to stick with widely known stereotypes than to honestly explore physical contact between members of the same sex (unless they're hot women). That would be, in the words of Larry's son, "ewwy."

Universal Home Video's 1.85:1 widescreen transfer of "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" is presented in 1080p high definition. Technically, it is pretty much flawless. Colors are vibrant and strong, particularly the reds of the fire trucks. Black levels are inky and rich. The picture shows great depth of field and is crisp and sharp. Some slight film grain is visible on occasion, but it does not distract. This is as excellent as the film can look, which should not be surprising given how recent the movie is.

A DTS 5.1 Master Audio soundtrack relays solid results. An early scene of the firefighters running through a burning building displays excellent directional pull that brings the action to life. Outside of this scene, the film is largely heavy on dialogue and music, which are both rendered clearly and without distortion. DTS 5.1 French and Spanish soundtracks are also included, with optional English (SDH), French, and Spanish subtitles.

Where this release severely falls short is on special features. The movie was previously released on DVD and HD-DVD with a number of extras, including behind-the-scenes featurettes and deleted scenes. None of those have been ported over for the Blu-ray release. All that have been retained are a pair of audio commentaries and an interactive friendship quiz (useless) that runs throughout the film. The first commentary track features director Dennis Dugan and co-stars Adam Sandler and Kevin James. The second features Dugan by himself. Neither track is greatly informative or of interest to anyone except diehard fans of the movie. Dugan probably provides more information on his solitary track, but the first one with Sandler and James is livelier. All in all, these are pretty slim offerings. As with all Universal Blu-ray discs, this one also includes a My-Scenes feature to save favorite clips.

Aside from the excellent picture and sound quality, I have no reason to recommend this release. This is not exactly the kind of film you want to use to showcase your hi-def system, and the original DVD release contains more extras. The film itself is a mess and will mainly appeal to fans of Adam Sandler's sophomoric brand of humor. If you ever wanted to know what drew people to minstrel shows, just ask the people who liked this movie.

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