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‘Chuck and Larry’: a throwback to another era

Story of straight men who pretend to be lovers just isn’t funny. By John Hartl

Adam Sandler’s juvenile new movie, “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” suggests a throwback to the forgotten 1969 gender-bender comedy, “The Gay Deceivers.”

Promoted with the tagline, “They had to keep their hands off girls in order to keep the Army’s hands off them,” it was the story of two friends (Kevin Coughlin, Larry Casey) who pretended to be gay to escape the draft. Cast as a swishy neighbor who wasn’t pretending, Michael Greer stole the show.

In the new movie, firefighters Chuck Levine (Sandler) and Larry Valentine (Kevin James) practice a similar deception for a different reason. The widowed Larry runs into threatening red tape on a life insurance policy that benefits his children, and he persuades Chuck to pose as his domestic partner to bypass the problem. Chuck gives in because Larry once saved his life, though his agreement always feels like a plot contrivance.

When a dumpster-diving bureaucrat (Steve Buscemi) goes through their decidedly heterosexual garbage and becomes suspicious, they’re forced to appear infatuated with each other. In “The Gay Deceivers,” it was a military officer whose curiosity persuaded the pair to make their sexual relationship look genuine. In both films, the laughs are built around the lengths to which the straight couple will go to create the illusion that they’re homosexual lovers.

Indeed, not much seems to have changed in nearly 40 years. The gay jokes are consistently retrograde and predictable. Chuck and Larry, who call themselves “big-time fruits,” claim to be passionate, but it’s obvious they’d rather punch each other out than kiss. There’s even a shower scene in which a bar of soap falls and the “newly gay” couple’s fellow firefighters are nervous about picking it up.

This time around, no one in the supporting cast is given enough screen time to steal the show from the stars (who do nothing we haven’t seen them do before), although Cole Morgen has a few charming moments as Larry’s musical-comedy-loving son, who tap-dances to “Pippin” and “Annie Get Your Gun” while his father tries to interest him in baseball.

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Buscemi for once seems miscast, as do Jessica Biel as Chuck’s heterosexual love interest, Richard Chamberlain as a fraud investigator and Dan Aykroyd as a blustery fire chief. The director, Dennis Dugan, who guided Sandler through “Big Daddy” and “Happy Gilmore,” turns up in a cameo role as a cab driver. Is his contribution behind the camera more amateurish than his work in front of it? Your call.

The screenplay is partly attributed to Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, the Oscar-winning writers of “Sideways” and “Election.” Dugan claims it’s based on a true story about a New Jersey fireman, but much of it (especially the embarrassingly phony finale) seems to have been assembled by a committee.

“I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” appears to exist in a universe in which “Will & Grace” and “Six Feet Under” never happened. At one point, to prove they’re gay, Chuck and Larry buy a DVD of “Brokeback Mountain,” but it’s a throwaway gag in a throwaway movie.