Sandler’s latest has same shtick, but with more heart

BY CATE MARQUIS, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

One thing you can say about comedian Adam Sandler is that he always lets the audience know his character is Jewish. As he says in his new comedy I Now Pronounce you Chuck And Larry about religion, “I’m Jewish. I wouldn’t want to disappoint my mother.”

On the other hand, no one is ever going to accuse Sandler of making comedy that is too high brow or overly intellectual. While one might hope, some day, for something more from the guy who gave us the delightful Hanukkah Song, Sandler’s comedy has been steadfastly rude, crude and often mean, and so it is not for every taste.

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I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry is a bit more Three Stooges style slapstick and less mean, making it a bit different. Straight, single Chuck Levine (Adam Sandler) and Larry Valentine (Kevin James) are buddies, Brooklyn firefighters who decide to pose as a gay couple so widower James can get benefits for his two kids.

After an insurance investigator comes sniffing around, Chuck and Larry go to Canada to get married, to cement the illusion. Chuck wants a traditional Jewish wedding but they settle for wearing yarmulkes, after Catholic Larry makes a Mel Gibson joke. Back in Brooklyn, they hire a lawyer (Jessica Biel), just to be safe.

It is a preposterous premise, and most of the film is just as silly. It is, however, more funny and entertaining that you might expect, especially as the story’s theme of tolerance unfolds, even with a touch of warmth from the King of Mean. Perhaps the credit for a kinder, gentler (but still rude) Sandler goes to the film’s screenwriter Alexander Payne, who wrote the hit comedy Sideways. The film also has a splendid supporting cast that includes an appealing Jessica Biel, Steve Buscemi as a snarky insurance investigator, and Dan Aykroyd as the fire station’s captain. Ving Rhames gives a performance you never thought you would see and comedian David Spade does a cameo in a dress.

The result is far funnier than you expect, if silly enough to almost be fantasy and rude enough for any Sandler fan. Sandler starts out with his own fantasy, playing a Jerry Lewis type unlikely Romeo, with girls fighting over him, a surprisingly sly parody of action hero ladykillers. When everyone starts assuming the he is the ‘girl’ of the couple, it takes him down a notch. When he meets a gorgeous lawyer with a gay brother, this cold hearted womanizer starts to re-think how he treats women.

Make no mistake, this is not the year’s greatest comedy or something deep and meaningful. It is still Adam Sandler’s shtick. But it has more heart in its silliness than Sandler has shown in a long time, although it starts out with plenty of mean. Maybe there is hope after all that Sandler will give us a movie equivalent of the sweet and funny Hanukah Song.