Meet Chuck Levine (Sandler) and Larry Valentine (Kevin James) two devoted--and completely heterosexual--New York firefighters who’ve had a long career watching each other’s backs. So naturally when salt-of-the-earth widower Larry has a hard time trying to get the proper life insurance benefits for his two young kids he asks his best friend a huge favor: to be his domestic partner on paper to get the benefits. No big deal right? Riiight. Needless to say the “arrangement” comes under fire when a snippy spot-checking bureaucrat (Steve Buscemi) becomes suspicious that they are committing fraud. Suddenly Chuck and Larry are all over the news much to the chagrin of their firefighting colleagues. They hire a hotshot lawyer (Jessica Biel) who lights Chuck’s fire to look into the case. But Chuck and Larry have to pretend to be love-struck newlyweds in the meantime fumbling through a charade of domestic bliss under one roof--and along the way find the meaning of happiness love family and all the rest as well. Adam Sandler is up to his old tricks and he’s dragging Kevin James into it this time. Sandler’s usual juvenile smart-alecky leading man has in turns been endearing (50 First Dates) and hilarious (Happy Gilmore). But in Chuck and Larry he just grates--creating his own personal la-la land where he gets to play a womanizer who can bed four totally hot women at the same time--and then feel up a scantily clad Jessica Biel. Please. I covet the days Sandler starred in movies like Punch-Drunk Love. James comes off much better than Sandler as the sweet Larry a guy having a tough time since his wife died. The actor/comedian has perfected the teddy-bear persona who's still a little rough around the edges. In fact if James were the one to hook up with the unbelievably fetching Ms. Biel you’d totally believe it. For her part Biel is cute and fun just like she’s supposed to be. Of course all of Sandler’s cronies make appearances including Rob Schneider as an Asian wedding chapel owner. At least he doesn’t say “You can do it!” Standing out is Ving Rhames as a badass firefighter who comes out of the closet because of Chuck and Larry’s love and shakes his bare tail-feather in more ways than one. With Chuck and Larry director Dennis Dugan a longtime Adam Sandler collaborator (Happy Gilmore; Big Daddy) knows how to create those comedic Sandler set pieces. Take for example the scene in which Chuck and Larry have to save a grossly obese man from a burning building only to watch him tumble down a flight of stairs with the firefighters entangled landing on top of Chuck and then passing gas. Ah the farting fat man...I guess if it floats your boat. There are other more genuinely funny moments in Chuck and Larry but what a Sandler comedy prides itself most on is that at its core there is a beating heart. Chuck and Larry certainly has one making very valid points about homophobia gay rights and the meaning of true friendship but somehow when everyone is going through their own self-realizations in Chuck and Larry’s climactic big scene it feels forced. Oh well. Chuck and Larry is still a formula that has worked well for Sandler time and time again bringing him untold millions. Why should he worry if it isn't his best effort?
If animals could indeed view their surroundings intellectually and talk to each other it’s entirely possible they’d discuss how screwed up human beings are especially in the ridiculous way we waste food. But hey to RJ (Bruce Willis) a wily raccoon what we throw away today becomes lunch tomorrow. He tries to impart some of this wisdom to his newfound friends--a motley crew lead by Verne the turtle (Garry Shandling)--after they wake up after a long winter’s nap and discover most of their natural habitat has been turned into a housing development separated by a very tall hedge. Yep these woodsy folk are sure in for an eye-opening adventure as the manipulative RJ convinces the gang to start collecting boxes of cheese doodles Girl Scout cookies and marshmallows telling them there is little to fear and everything to gain from their over-indulgent new neighbors. Now if they can only get rid of that cat... If you’re an actor these days the chances to play a serious Oscar-worthy role are just as great as playing a squirrel. Or a hedgehog. Or a guy called the Verminator. Over the Hedge has a fine slate of voices starting with Willis as RJ the raconteur raccoon whose pretty savvy to the ways of the paved and pre-packaged world of suburbia. Shandling is the heart of the film as the mild-mannered Verne who just wants to take care of his little woodland family. They include a couple of married-with-kids hedgehogs (pitch perfect Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara); a hyperactive but tender-hearted squirrel (a hilarious Steve Carell); an overdramatic possum (William Shatner playing it to the hilt) and his embarrassed teenage daughter (pop star Avril Lavigne); and a snarky skunk with attitude (Wanda Sykes who else?). As far as the humans Allison Janney voices a shrieking but vindictive homeowner while the Thomas Haden Church is said Verminator a fat balding but ruthless pest exterminator. What fun! Over the Hedge keeps to the spirit of the popular comic strip by Michael Fry and T. Lewis on which the film is based. The strip focuses on the travails of friends RJ and Verne as they exploit the human world for their own personal gain while sardonically commenting on how messed up it is. Hedge sort of shows how these two might have met and is just a hoot from beginning to end. The images of woodland animal-meets-modern-day people are spot on: RJ’s spiel on how humans get food (“That’s the receptacle to get the food [a phone]...and that’s the tone when the food comes [the doorbell]”); SUVs (“Humans are slowly phasing out walking all together”); the skunk seducing the stupid cat (“I like your smell.”). The best is when Hammy the squirrel getting so hopped up on caffeinated soda the whole world comes to a stand still for him. Side-splitting stuff. Again success in animation comes when you stick with a simple story and create characters everyone can relate to. Plus hilarious dialogue. It’ll work every time.