You know a comedy’s in trouble when the funniest person in it is Ving Rhames.
When it resorts to stereotypes that seemed creaky even before "Victor/Victoria" showed up on screen 25 years (!) ago.
When its screenwriting trio includes a former "Golden Girls" staff writer — and those wonderful folks who brought you both "Sideways" and "About Schmidt."
Yes, there’s a lot of mixed-up messiness going on in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry." And most people probably won’t mind at all.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must note that a theater full of people laughed their heads (or, more precisely, their backsides) off the night I saw this movie.
I wasn’t one of them.
One of those movies that wants it both ways, "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" has a blast indulging in homophobic stereotypes and tired gay jokes — until it’s time to remind the audience that such behavior is hurtful and shameful.
Until that point, it’s OK to laugh. Unless, like me, you’re too busy wincing at the strained comedy — and the strained logic. (Not necessarily in that order.)
"I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" focuses on best buds and Brooklyn firefighters Chuck Levine (Adam Sandler, who’s also one of the producers) and Larry Valentine (Kevin James).
Chuck’s a party-hearty bachelor, Larry a widower still mourning his beloved wife three years after her death.
Due to a highly contrived (and utterly unbelievable) glitch in the pension system, Larry can’t list his kids — a tomboy daughter (Shelby Adamowsky) and a gotta-sing, gotta-dance son (tap-happy Cole Morgen) — as his beneficiaries.
Unless he remarries. Or, more to the point, acquires a domestic partner — to be embodied by his devoted pal Chuck.
Chuck’s appalled by this scheme, but he does owe his life to Larry. So he agrees — provided they can keep it quiet.
Dream on, guys.
Although their no-nonsense boss (a dyspeptic Dan Aykroyd) doesn’t buy the ruse, he agrees to keep their secret. But when a priggish city fraud inspector (a sadly cartoonish Steve Buscemi) starts sniffing around, the outwardly happy couple consults an attorney who just happens to be a stunning hottie (played with game-for-anything gusto by the fetching Jessica Biel).
She advises them to prove their devotion by going to Niagara Falls and getting married. (Once they’re on the Canadian side, that is.)
Thus the stage is set for rude, crude hijinks — followed, inevitably, by not-that-there’s-anything-wrong-with-that reminders as Chuck and Larry become poster boys for gay pride and straight tolerance of same.
Director Dennis Dugan (who also helmed Sandler’s "Happy Gilmore" and "Big Daddy") delivers a few mildly amusing sequences, most of them involving the hulking Rhames as an intimidating newcomer at the Brooklyn firehouse.
And Rhames, who understands the power of less-is-more comedy, scores more laughs with sly subtlety than all of Sandler’s "Saturday Night Live" posse (from Rachel Dratch to Robert Smigel to the inevitable Rob Schneider) put together.
Sitcom vet James, who proved his big-screen potential in 2005’s "Hitch," once again capitalizes on his lovable-lug presence, while Sandler once again indulges his penchant for casting himself as an obnoxious babe magnet. The part does not fit him like a love glove.
Then again, it’s far from the only thing in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" that doesn’t feel right. I now pronounce you a comic misfire.CAROL CLINGMORE COLUMNS
REVIEW movie: "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" running time: 115 minutes rating: PG-13; crude sexual content, nudity, profanity, drug references verdict: C- now playing: Boulder, Cannery, Cinedome, Green Valley, Neonopolis, Orleans, Palms, Rainbow, Red Rock, Santa Fe, Showcase, South Point, Suncoast, Sunset, Texas, Drive-in