Dir: Dennis Dugan. US. 2007. 115mins.
Tiptoeing carefully around the touchy subject of gay marriage, Adam Sandler farce I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry turns out to be a pretty inoffensive but not terrifically funny buddy comedy that slips its vague pleas for lifestyle tolerance in between bursts of the kind of broad, un-PC humour for which its star is best known.
The big question for distributor Universal is whether the movie will turn out to have played it safe enough to fall in the comfort zone of the mainstream summer audience that's likely to be attracted by Sandler and his TV sitcom co-star Kevin James.
The film opens wide in North America - with a rating reportedly changed after appeal from R to PG-13 - this coming weekend, a week before the somewhat similarly targeted The Simpsons Movie. If some of Sandler's core male fans are scared off by the gay content, matching the $137.4m domestic take of the star's more family-oriented summer 2006 hit Click will be a tall order.
Most international markets open in August and September. Sandler has never been huge outside the US (Click, his biggest success to date, scraped past $100m) and though its content may be more easily accepted internationally this outing for the star seems unlikely to change the pattern.
The long-in-development original script by Barry Fanaro (Men In Black II) was revised by the Oscar-winning Sideways team of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, and there's an echo of that film in the pairing of Chuck (Sandler) and Larry (James, from TV's King Of Queens and Will Smith feature Hitch).
The best friends are both experienced Brooklyn firefighters, but whereas Chuck is a womanising bachelor, Larry is a heartsick widower and father of two. When red tape stops him naming his kids as insurance beneficiaries, Larry comes up with a plan to pretend that he and Chuck are domestic partners, so that Chuck can become the surrogate beneficiary.
But when the two very hetero firemen attract the interest of a spot-checking bureaucrat (Steve Buscemi) their arrangement becomes front-page news and they have to recruit pretty gay rights lawyer Alex (Jessica Biel, from The Illusionist) to maintain the deceit.
The story follows an all too predictable arc. The heroes start out as blue-collar guys with a habitual hostility towards anything - even the interest that Larry's son takes in musicals - that smacks of gay.
But they begin to change - and to foment change in their fire station pals - once they start experiencing discrimination from the other side. At the same time, they discover the real value of friendship, Chuck falls for Alex and Larry begins to get over the loss of his wife.
The only significant gay characters in the story - most notable among them a tough-looking fireman (Ving Rhames) - turn out to be entirely non-threatening.
Former Saturday Night Live star Sandler and big screen up-and-comer James make a promising comic team but the script doesn't give them much to really work with.
Cameo performances come from musician Dave Matthews (as a campy shop assistant) and a number of recent and former SNL players (Dan Aykroyd, David Spade, Rachel Dratch and Rob Schneider).
Film and TV actor Richard Chamberlain and 'N Sync singer Lance Bass, both of whom have recently come out in the media, also make brief appearances, reinforcing the project's gay-friendly credentials.
Happy Madison Productions
Shady Acres Entertainment
Universal Pictures International
Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
Perry Andelin Blake