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I now pronounce you … very disappointing

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Without question, humor often can be an effective tool in films to gently — or sometimes not so gently — deliver a message about overcoming intolerance regarding gay issues. Along those lines, motion pictures that come to mind that “successfully” achieved the dual roles of entertaining and educating are Stephan Elliott’s 1994 Oscar-winning “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” “The Birdcage” with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane and “Flawless,” the poignant and yet often funny Joel Schumacher film from 1999 starring Robert DeNiro and his drag queen neighbor, played beautifully by Philip Seymour Hoffman — a straight actor who interestingly would later win his first Oscar playing another gay role as the title character in “Capote.”

Unfortunately, though the hearts of the filmmakers and stars of “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” appear to be in the right place, the end result is a very disappointing mishmash of stale gay jokes and situations completely undercut by the very premise of the film itself.

Veteran comic and TV sitcom star Kevin James stars as Larry, a New York City firefighter still struggling with the grief of losing his wife two years after her death. Larry is an outstanding fireman but is obsessed about what may happen to his two young children — if his dangerous profession takes his life, potentially leaving his kids as orphans.

When he discovers various glitches in the city’s benefit program could compromise his children’s welfare — should he be killed in the line of duty — he tries to figure out how to best prepare for that difficult situation.

This film’s sloppy script all-too-quickly delivers us to the point where Larry is totally convinced the “only” way out is to get his best friend Chuck (Adam Sandler) to agree to become his domestic partner.

There’s only one problem. Not only is Chuck — like Larry — completely heterosexual, he’s “Mr. February” in the department’s best-selling firemen’s calendar, and one of the Big Apple’s most notorious Lotharios. Chuck beds scores of women faster than most guys work up the nerve to ask a single girl out on a date — let alone get them into the sack.

Ironically, the only real laughs in “Chuck & Larry” come during scenes when Sandler’s Chuck is dealing with his raging — and completely straight — hormones.

It’s only because Larry saves Chuck’s life after a building collapse in a raging industrial fire — when Chuck told his pal he could ask any favor he’d like — that Larry has the psychological leverage to make his buddy go along on this hairbrained scheme.

Of course, it’s all predicated on the notion that none of this gay domestic partner paperwork will ever be made public.

That all becomes moot when a run-in between Chuck (who attends a gay benefit event with Larry) ends up on the front page of the New York newspapers — after he brawls with a bunch of anti-gay demonstrators.

Director, Wheaton, Ill., native and frequent Sandler collaborator Dennis Dugan (“Happy Gilmore,” “Big Daddy”) has taken what could have been a terribly funny premise — especially given the authentic comedic talents of James and Sandler — and turned out a very uneven and often choppy cinematic ride here. Perhaps most painful: a bizarre shower scene at the firehouse and the film’s climactic moment — an extremely forced and uncomfortable city hearing to determine whether or not Chuck and Larry are truly partners in life.

Sandler (who also produced the film) has brought together a solid bunch of actors — both longtime buddies and co-stars, as well as some new additions.

The problem is, they have so little to work with here. It all boils down to a horrible waste of talent. Dan Aykroyd looks uncomfortable delivering his lines as the firehouse captain. Ving Rhames is cast as the initially tough-as-nails fellow firefighter harboring a deep dark secret. (Boy! I’ll bet you can’t guess what that is!). Young actor Cole Morgen is tapped to play Larry’s son Eric — a budding musical star and tap dancer who is more interested in his sister’s closet and Easy Bake Oven than he is in Little League or Cub Scouts. The always-gorgeous Jessica Biel does a serviceable job as the firemen’s attorney — defending them against the city’s challenge to their benefits claims — who Chuck is forced to lust after in forced silence. Steve Buscemi — one of his generation’s most talented actors — is really reduced to delivering one of his most embarrassing moments on screen in this film — as the city’s inspector, out to ferret out fraud by people pretending to be something they are not.

And I would be very remiss if I neglected to mention two totally obvious — and silly — cameos: The openly gay Richard Chamberlain, playing the city official overseeing the final hearing on Chuck and Larry’s case; and the appearance by the recently “out” Lance Bass of ‘N Sync fame — performing a song in the movie’s totally predictable final scene.

The point of mentioning the Chamberlain and Bass moments in “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” is to illustrate a basic flaw to this whole project: total lack of subtlety and examples of everyone involved with this project just trying too hard to be politically correct and sensitive.

It’s a shame they didn’t try harder — working on making this funny.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry

Two Stars

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James and Jessica Biel

Director: Dennis Dugan

Rated: PG-13 for crude sexual content throughout, nudity, language and drug references

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