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?
Pastor Becky Fischer holds a summer camp for kids at Devil's Lake in North Dakota. She's training Christian soldiers for God's Army and Jesus Camp follows three white home-schooled Missouri children--Levi (now 13) Rachael (now 10) and Tory (now 11)--through the camp from a year ago to where they are now in their indoctrination. Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady present the religious brainwashing techniques in a slow deliberate manner as the evangelical Christian adults seem to transform the kids into Stepford-like children who spew the word of God for less than altruistic reasons. The children are shown being trained to bring Christ back to America and use their "Prophetic Gifts " of which they are told they all possess. There are also scenes of children blessing a cardboard figure of President Bush saying prayers for conservative Supreme Court justice nominees and 7-year-olds in painted faces dancing spiritual war dances believing prayer can fix their malfunctioning film projector. The filmmakers try in vain to remain objective but it's impossible. As a documentary the participants of Jesus Camp come across as realistic as they can even though they are aware of the camera at all times. Some of the scenes seem to play to the cameras in disturbing reality as the angelic faces are moved to tears by their religious fervor or turned into unworldly contortions as they speak in tongues. Levi wants to be a mega-church pastor speaking to congregations of thousands while Rachael wants to be a missionary in far-off places and is bent on recruiting her neighbor. Tory spreads her message through dance and attends anti-abortion rallies. Pastor Becky is also shown in revealing moments especially as she obsesses more about her appearance than Tammy Faye Baker would. Pastor Becky obviously allowed incredible access to the filmmakers for Jesus Camp and maybe she’ll be pleased with the way the film will get her word out. But Jesus Camp seems more suited for TV than the big screen. The ideas presented are not even remotely balanced. Well-made feature film documentaries don’t have to be unbiased but they should at least strive to address some opposite points of view. Air America radio host Mike Papantonio who is a Methodist gives the only contrary commentary about these camps but he's rather namby-pamby about it all. Those who may expect more answers from Jesus Camp--on what would make people like Pastor Betty take these kids and coach them into becoming religiously intolerant and rigid thinkers--could be sorely disappointed.
Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson) is about as average as one can get. He’s an electrician working for the Army doesn’t have any family. In other words he is perfect for playing a guinea pig in the government's new Human Hibernation Project. Joined by Rita (Maya Rudolph) a street-smart hooker who needs to hide out for a while they are to be kept on ice and revived a year later. But when they awaken they find out that they're almost a thousand years into the future. The project was forgotten and scrubbed their hibernation pods became landfill--and now Bowers is the smartest man on Earth. They meet Dizz (Dax Shepard) who's addicted to a lounge chair a bungling doctor (Justin Long) and the president/pro-wrestler (Terry Crews). Guess this means prognosticators--hoping for a better more intelligent future--are dead wrong.. Idiocracy effectively becomes a bunch of one-liners spliced together which really doesn’t do any of the comic talent justice. Still all the performers play rather believable idiots. Wilson turns on his easy-going charm as the least dim-witted bulb in the bunch (but never quite gets what Rita does for a living). The affable actor always shines brighter in a movie that doesn’t have “romantic comedy” in its description. Rudolph does her usual Saturday Night Live shtick while Long (Accepted) as the doctor who checks people in and out as if they were in a Jiffy Lube is hysterical even if the one-note hospital gag gets a tad tiresome. Crews is also pretty clever in his role as the dunderhead president who can't figure out how to save his planet from starvation. Why haven't you heard about this movie? Well that's the true Idiocracy. Fox seems to have rushed this little gem out failing to promote it in anyway much like they did with the cult hit Office Space. Ironically both are directed by Mike Judge (of Beavis and Butthead fame). Judge has put his finger on the pulse of what's wrong with this world and gives a bleak social commentary about our future. For example his version of the classic film of the future is a giant naked butt expelling intermittent gas every few minutes. That kind of fart film is the wave of this future run by live-action Beavis and Buttheads. Maybe Judge means to say that the people of Idiocracy’s future--who watch the Masturbation Channel and Fox News (yes that survives) and shop at stores bigger than small cities--are the descendants of those who run the studios today. Or maybe not.