Over the prolific decade since Billy Madison, Adam Sandler has posited himself as the voice of the blue-collar Joe, turning out lowbrow slapstick comedies that feed off hyper-masculine rage and immaturity, but always come around to a sticky sentimental message. Sandler knows his audience well, so it's reasonable to say that his new comedy, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, serves as a solid bellwether for how a vast swath of straight Americans feel about gay people. There are two ways to look at it: Either be depressed that the culture hasn't evolved past its crude stereotypes and gay-panic jokes, or be encouraged by signs that the masses are slowly inching toward tolerance. Whatever the case, the film's desire to simultaneously mock and embrace makes it the most schizophrenic comedy of its kind since Shallow Hal, which chased fat jokes with an earnest message about how real beauty comes from within. Good intentions can only carry these films so far, and this one falls woefully short.
Why do Adam Sandler and Kevin James, best friends and partners in the New York City fire department, wind up in a domestic partnership? Because James, a widower, wants pension benefits for his two children. Sandler goes along with the scheme because James saved his life, but the film makes it clear that he's as far from gay as a strapping fireman can be. (He's so not-gay, in fact, that he's currently sleeping with a set of twins, half of the Hooters waitstaff, and a doctor who looks like she was lifted from Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher" video.) When the city challenges the partnership, the two face possible fraud charges, but their decision to hire gorgeous lawyer Jessica Biel leads to romantic complications.
Chuck & Larry works overtime to be an equal-opportunity offender, presenting flaming queers as funny (and super-straight men being mistaken for gay as even funnier), but also mocking homophobic anxieties over soap-dropping in the shower or leaving childcare to two daddies. The usual grade-school-level Sandler comedy doesn't help—director Dennis Dugan also helmed Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy, so he maintains the low standards—but the film's earnest message constantly forces it to squirm out of offensive situations. At a certain point, the filmmakers just give up and give the floor to courtroom speechifying the likes of which haven't been seen since Steven Seagal in On Deadly Ground. Chuck & Larry is one for the time capsule: If it doesn't look ridiculous now, try watching it again in a decade or three. Then it'll be funny for all the wrong reasons.