Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
An uncomfortable viewing experience, Dennis Dugan´s I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry barrages us with ethnic and sexist stereotypes while attempting to deliver a pandering, PC-friendly, acceptance-for-all message, culminating in an embarrassing Adam Sandler courtroom speech on why we shouldn´t use the word “faggot”. Scripted by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor – yeah, that´s right, the duo behind Election, About Schmidt, and Sideways – with rewrites by “Golden Girls” producer and scribe Barry Fanaro. Somehow, I don´t think the final product is what Payne and Taylor had intended.
Impossibly contrived premise leaves fireman Larry Valentine (Kevin James) without an heir; his two kids would do, but apparently he forgot to fill out the proper paperwork after the death of his wife, despite mailed reminders, which would leave his kids penniless in the event of his death (I didn´t buy this premise in House of Sand and Fog, and I´m certainly not gonna buy it here). The solution: marry best bud Chuck Levine (Sandler) and apply for domestic partnership benefits. Uh-huh. Soon, their partnership is being investigated, and Chuck´s attraction to lawyer Jessica Biel further complicates matters. At some point during the film, I wondered where all the jokes were; unfortunately, I began to realize that these uneasy stereotypes were the jokes. And not just the gay ones, which include Larry´s tap-dancing son and a bizarre don´t-drop-the-soap shower scene; no, we´re also treated to a variety of unnecessary sexist and fat jokes, and Rob Schneider´s entirely offensive Chinese minister, the likes of which I wish I could say haven´t been seen since the days of Charlie Chan, but unfortunately Eddie Murphy´s Norbit was only a few months ago. James is likable if bland, Sandler miscast as a ladies´ man, Beal given little to do. It´s left to the supporting cast to provide laughs, and while some succeed (Dan Aykroyd, Ving Rhames, and Richard Chamberlain in a late cameo), others are cringeworthy (Schneider, David Spade), and poor Steve Buscemi looks embarrassed in an unplayable role. Competently made, and I suppose this may appease the unthinking masses; for the rest of us, however, it´s just shameful.
Awkwardly structured drama gives us the mildly compelling story of Ann Grant (Claire Danes), maid of honor at her wealthy Newport friend´s wedding, who becomes entangled in a kind of love triangle (love pentangle?) during a long weekend; this is framed by the mostly uninteresting story of a dying Ann (now Vanessa Redgrave), her two daughters (Toni Collette and Natasha Richardson) and their problems, and her reminisces of that fateful wedding. The flashback scenes pique our interest, with the social rules of this wealthy family (headed by matriarch Glenn Close) at their ‘summer mansion´, and effective, if aloof, performances by Hugh Dancy and Patrick Wilson. This is starkly contrasted with the present-day scenes, which come off as entirely flat, telling us everything and showing us nothing; they might have made for a nice framing device, a la Titanic, but the intercutting breaks up all rhythm in the film and leaves us with a difficult viewing experience. There are too many characters and nothing to really grab hold of, and thus this potential tearjerker never really resonates emotionally. Meryl Streep and Glenn Close are mostly wasted in minor roles, though Streep does have a nice scene at the end. A mild disappointment from all involved, including Hungarian director Koltai (Fateless), screenwriter Michael Cunningham (The Hours), and the all-star female cast; it remains, however, a respectable chick flick that doesn´t pander to the lowest common denominator.
Middling teen rehash of Rear Window starts off surprisingly well with an effective car crash scene, but eventually loses its way while heading into generic thriller territory. A likable Shia LaBeouf stars as Kale, expelled from school and sentenced to house arrest for socking his Spanish teacher. Mild comedy ensues, the boredom of his situation faithfully re-enacted as Kale tests the limits of his ankle bracelet and lusts after new neighbor Ashley (Sarah Roemer). Soon, he begins to suspect neighbor Mr. Turner (David Morse) is a serial killer, and instead of notifying the police, enlists the aid of Ashley and friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) to solve the crime. Director D. J. Caruso directs with efficiency, but the screenplay lets him down; this is the kind of situation that can only happen in the movies (and has, many, many times before), and we all know where things are headed. There´s never any doubt about Mr. Turner´s guilt, and the characters´ actions are never believable: specifically, the reluctance to go to the police, even after Turner harasses and assaults Ashley in a parking garage. Carrie-Ann Moss is fine as Kale´s mother, though one wishes she´d take on some more significant roles after years of playing housewife/mother types. In all, a watchable but strictly minor league thriller that only suffers in comparison to the Hitchcock film it emulates.
Also opening: director Stefan Ruzowitzky´s Die Falscher (The Counterfeiters, showtimes | IMDb), the story of the largest counterfeiting operation in history, carried out by Jewish prisoners under the orders of their Nazi superiors during WWII. The film is screening in German with Czech subtitles.