The reviews for the new Adam Sandler–Kevin James gay-panic comedy, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, are pretty abysmal, and a number of reviewers echo Manohla Dargis's question: What the hell are Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor's names doing on this movie? "It’s next to impossible to reconcile Mr. Payne and Mr. Taylor, who excel in sharply honed, intelligent satire, with the crude laughs and nyuck-nyuck physical high jinks that characterize Chuck & Larry," she writes, and it's true that the pair, whose films include About Schmidt and Sideways, don't seem a match for a movie featuring Rob Schneider as a hiralious Asian priest.
That's because, we've learned, the finished version of I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry bears little resemblance to the script Payne and Taylor turned in several years ago. We're told their version of the script, a rewrite of credited writer Barry Fanaro's original, which Payne and Taylor handed in in 2005, convinced Adam Sandler to come aboard the project. Once he was on, Sandler did what he does with pretty much every movie he's in that isn't written by Paul Thomas Anderson: He gave the script an uncredited "polish" himself. (Other uncredited writers listed on the industry resource StudioSystem.com include Jon Favreau, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel.)
And so Taylor and Payne's sensitive but sharply funny script about Philadelphia firefighters was turned into what reviewers call a "crass," "stupid" movie featuring a shower scene in which — you guessed it — someone drops the soap. What else did Sandler and other rewriters change? In Taylor and Payne's version, bereft widower and devoted dad Larry (eventually played by Kevin James) finds love with the politically aware lawyer defending their case. It's nicely handled and quite emotionally potent to watch this sad man find happiness, even though he's terrified of what it might do to his case. In the final version, it's Sandler's character, womanizer Chuck, who falls for Jessica Biel's lawyer, amid such emotionally rich moments as his squeezing her breasts while she says, "They're real, feel them!"
The character of Larry's son in Payne and Taylor's script is an aspiring figure skater whose sexuality seems to be in flux. He's sensitive to abuse taken at school and angrily rebels against Chuck and Larry's seeming union. In the final film, Larry's son is a dancer who, one reviewer points out, "wears Flashdance sweats, does the splits, uses his sister's E-Z-Bake Oven, and loves musical theater."
And in the dramatic conclusion of Payne and Taylor's script, Chuck and Larry kiss on the courthouse steps — "not just a timid exchange," the stage notes add, "but the long, passionate melting together of soul-mates. Tongues and everything. Hot. Wow." Needless to say, this scene never made it into the final version.
Flamers, as Payne and Taylor called their version, isn't perfect — its satire is shaggy, not sharp, and you can tell this is a script they rewrote for cash rather than writing for Payne to direct himself. But it's still good enough to mourn the provocative, funny, sensitive movie they might have made, rather than the preachy schlock it turned into.